Leighton Parks.

Moral leadership, and other sermons online

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Now in addition to this remission of
sins they bound sins upon people. There
were many things that respectable men
and women were doing, and their con-
science did not trouble them at all, but
the Church made their conscience trouble
them, and that is the meaning of the bind-
ing of sin. Neither the Church nor any
other organization can, since we have
the Gospels in our hands, put arbitrary
sins upon you and me, but the Church can
and did in the past, and may in the future,
reveal to your conscience and mine that
which heretofore we have never thought
of as a sin. For instance, one of the most
terrible things in the social life of the


latter days of the Empire was the disgust
with children. They were a nuisance.
They were a weariness, and the girls were
simply an expense and a danger.* And
therefore all over that Empire children,
and above all girl babies, were exposed to
the elements, to the wild beasts, to die,
and apparently nobody's conscience was
troubled. If the mother felt the maternal
pang as the infant, that she never should
see again, was drawn from her breast,
nobody paid any attention to that.
There was no conscience that objected till
Christian men and women came and said:
"But that little child belongs to God,"
and they baptized it. They baptized in-
fants wherever they found them. They
put the sign of the cross on them, they

* As these words were spoken, a little girl who had
taken off her hat and leaned her head against her
father's breast, encircled by his arm, looked up at him
with a smile as much as to say: "Did you ever hear
anything as silly as that?" I saw an illustration of a
new life. Children had once been endured, now they
are adored.

[ 28 ]


branded them as a part of Christ's flock,
and slowly it came to pass that men and
women said to themselves, *'This thing is
a sin," and it ceased.

Another thing they did and nobody
thought it was a sin — to hold slaves. No-
body thought it was a sin if the slave ran
away and his master was convinced that
he no longer could get any more work out
of him if the master killed the slave — the
way you sometimes feel about a horse that
has run away — you are at liberty to kill

The Church did not begin a social revo-
lution and attempt to overthrow the
whole structure that was built on slavery,
but they asked the master and his slave
to sit down together at the Table while
somebody served, and they told them that
the unseen servant was Jesus Christ. And
from that day slowly, very slowly, the sin
of slavery, the holding of the brother in
bondage came to be felt to be wrong-
[ 29 1


The Church bound that upon the con-
science of the world.

And the same thing took place in the
gladiatorial shows. Why, when a coun-
try had been conquered and strong men
had been taken captive, should they not
be taken to Rome, to the Colosseum, to
be devoured by wild beasts, while the
elite of Rome drank the blood of the beast
and the man with shrieks of delight.'^ The
Church said: *' There is no such thing as
Barbarian or Scythian — we are all one
in Jesus Christ." And, just as once no
one would have thrown a Roman citizen
into the arena just because he belonged
to the Eternal City, so the day came when
no one would throw any man or woman
to the lions because they belonged to the
City of God. It was very slow, but it was
very sure. They forgave sins and they
bound sins — they were the moral leaders
of the world.

The second great moment of which I
[ 30 1


would speak is what is known as the
Reformation in the sixteenth century.
Then the same thing went on. In the
first place the Church, that part of it
which had begun to receive the Spirit of
Christ, began to forgive sins. The whole
machinery of pardon had broken down.
Men and women had been doing every-
thing that the priesthood said they ought
to do, and as a result they had lost their
money and had gotten no peace of con-
science. Conscience would not let them
alone, and they began to ask themselves:
"Why is it that when I have done every-
thing that I have been told to do I cannot
find peace to my soul.^"

And the men and women who had re-
ceived the Spirit of Christ in the sixteenth
century, said, the reason is this: "You
haven't enough to pay God for what you
have done, but God in His infinite love
has paid for you. You are as foolish as
the workman who week by week brings
[ 31 1


up his penny to pay the debt he can never
pay, and then finds that it has been paid
by him to whom it was due. The Cross
of Christ," said these men, "is the witness
that the debt, whatever it is, has been
paid. No one of you could pay it, no one
of you need try to pay it. All you need
to do is to receive God's assurance that
the debt is cancelled, and that now you
can live with a free conscience as His
child, trying to do the will of God."
That lifted the burden of sin off the con-
sciences of multitudes, and they began
life all over again.

Then, in addition to this one particular
forgiving of sins (and I cannot speak of
many others because of want of time) , let
us think of other sins the Church lifted off
the consciences of men and women. First,
it lifted off the sin of marriage. The
Church had been saying, or rather the
officials had been saying, for centuries,
that marriage was a mere concession to the
[ 32 ]


animal life, and that the noblest spiritual
life was free from all family ties. Now
came these men and women, who had
received the Spirit of Christ in the six-
teenth century, and said: *'The holiest
life on earth is the life of a pure man and
a pure woman in marriage."

They lifted off the conscience the sin of
marriage, and revealed marriage as God's
appointed way for the fulfilment and
sanctification of human life. The holy
family took the place of the sexless priest.

They lifted from the conscience the sin
of reading the Bible. It is true that many
more Bibles were distributed before the
Reformation than we used to think. It
is true that a good many people were read-
ing the Bible before the Reformation; but
this is also true: that the officials of the
Church were opposed to any reading of
the Bible except under the direction of
the priest. The Reformers lifted the ban
and said: *'Read your Bible for yourself


when and where you will, and God will
reveal Himself unto you plain men and
women just as He revealed Himself to the
men and women who wrote the book."
Need I go on? I have only begun to
touch the fringe of this subject, and yet
here we must leave it. The Church, when
it has been filled with the Spirit of Jesus
Christ, has felt first of all the moral re-
sponsibility for the conditions of the
world in which it lives; and secondly: the
Church, when it has been filled with the
Spirit of Jesus Christ, has had a sublime
faith in the response of human nature to
the revelation of the Divine Life.

I have been speaking all along of what
the "Church" has done. This includes
various activities and many agencies. It
might be by a council as at Jerusalem, or
by the prince of the Apostles, Peter, or the
"least of the Apostles," Paul, or by
Bishops or Doctors or Preachers or
Evangelists — but the real though unseen
[ 34 1


work of forgiveness and condemnation
was the work of obscure men and women.
This was true in the conversion of the
Empire, and in the Reformation. The
great mountain peaks hfted high above
the plain are named and honored, but it is
the mountain range that forms the water-
shed and affects the chmate. It is the
Church, the whole company of Christian
people who change the world's atmos-
phere in any age. It is to them we must
turn to-day.




"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto
them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are re-
tained."— St. John 20 : 23.

It was my privilege to speak to you last
Sunday of these same words, and we
thought of the way in which the Church
had realized the moral leadership of the
world, first in the forgiving and secondly
in the binding of sins upon men's con-
sciences in the great moment called the
conversion of the Roman Empire. In the
sixteenth century also we saw how godly
men and women lifted off of the con-
sciences of men and women the burden
of sin which the officials of the Church
had bound upon them. But time did not
permit us to go on and think of the way


in which those same men and women
bound heavily the burden of sin upon the
Church, which led to the reformation of
the Roman Catholic Church itself.

To-day I want to remind you, first of
all, that those two great moments do not
exhaust the experience of the Church.
There has never been a generation where
this work has not been called for, and
there never has been a generation w^here
this work has not been done by the Church.
In the first generation of Christians it was
done officially by the Council of Jeru-
salem, which lifted a burden from con-
science and laid a burden upon conscience.
In the twelfth century it was done by
St. Francis, the great layman, the great
absolver of sin, — the man who also laid the
burden of godless riches and enervating
luxury so heavy upon the conscience that
men and women could no longer bear it.
It was done again in the eighteenth cen-
tury by John Wesley, when he lifted off


the burden of great and heavy sins, and
laid again the burden of sins upon the
consciences of others who thought them-
selves righteous. It has been done in
the nineteenth century by the Salvation
Army. There has never been a genera-
tion that has been without it.

Now this morning we want to ask our-
selves, what is the need of it now.^ And
if we followed the logical order we should
consider first what are the sins that the
Church ought to lift off the consciences
of men, and secondly, what are the sins
that the Church ought to bind upon them.
But I have thought it best to leave to next
Sunday the consideration of what sins we
ought to try to lift, and to ask you to
think with me this morning about some
sins that we ought to try to bind. And as
much as I dislike to do it, I intend to talk
to you about a question everybody is talk-
ing and reading about, everybody is flock-
ing to see represented upon the stage — I
[ 39 1


mean the sex relation of men and women.

Twenty years ago I said to a man whose
moral judgment I greatly value: "It
seems to me that the increasing divorces
in this country must lead ultimately to
the dissolution of society." But he said:
"Not so. The difficulty to-day is not
that there are too many divorces, but that
there are too few." I do not think he
would say that to-day, for there are some
states in which there is one divorce to
every twelve marriages, and other states
where it is asserted (though I am not
certain, and will not insist upon it) that
the proportion is even greater.

Now the first difficulty in dealing with
this whole matter is that the Church it-
self is not clear in its judgment. It is not
clear officially. Individual members, you
and I who are here, are not clear about it
because there are so many different things
that are contained in this one word,
"divorce," that it is difficult to form a
[ 40 ]


judgment. For instance, take this case,
and it can be duplicated, yes and more
than duphcated, by experiences that some
of you here this morning know. Here,
we may say, is a girl who has married a
man in good faith, and finds that he
was physically unfit to be married, in-
temperate, a gambler, he does not support
her, he abuses her, he calls on her to get
support from her family, and at last sug-
gests that there is some other man who
would provide what is needed. Is there
any good man or woman who would say
that she ought to remain under those
conditions.^ Is there father or mother
who would say that the daughter ought to
submit herself to the wandering lusts of
such a creature.'^ None. Can it be the
mind of Christ that she should continue
in that state? I believe not. But when
you ask me to go further and say that
that being the case the woman is at liberty,
after the court has relieved her from her
[ 41 1


legal obligation, to marry again, I find
myself in conflict with the Church of
which I am a minister. It says yes, I say
no. But it is not my purpose to discuss
that — that is another matter — I merely
call your attention to it to show that there
are cases where, in the judgment of all
good men and women, divorces are justi-

We will take another case. Here, we
will say, is a man who has married and
soon become dissatisfied with his wife.
He removes to Nevada, he sets up a fic-
titious residence, he complains to the
judge that his wife has abandoned him,
which means that she would not go out
to the West with him to get a divorce.
He is set free, he returns here to this com-
munity and he marries a young woman
with whom, as the English servants say,
he "had been keeping company," and
then all is as it should be, and nobody is
to blame!



What is to be the end of this thing, my
friends? For between those two ex-
tremes of justifiable divorce and fraud
there are great numbers of cases which
cannot be put in either category. Di-
vorce has been made easy, and in my
judgment, because it has been made easy,
advantage has been taken of it. Women
are notobhged now to go so far as Nevada,
They can go to the State of Maine (be it
said to the shame of New England) and
can get a divorce from a man against
whom they have not one charge to utter.
They have tired of him and have seen
some other man that they want to hve
with. Yet these people return here and
expect to be received as respectable peo-
ple. What is your opinion on that sub-

Now some one will say: *'You will

never be able to deal with this question

of divorce until you have first dealt with

the question of marriage. It is not di-

f 43 1


vorce — it is marriage that is the disease."
This is not a new thing, of course; the
new thing about it is that while it has been
uttered by irresponsible and often disrep-
utable people, it has now been uttered
by responsible people. If such things are
published in the muck-raking magazines
or in the yellow journals, certainly the
pulpit would not be justified in caUing the
attention of respectable people to them;
but when we have published in one of the
representative magazines of this country,
the Atlantic Monthly, an article by one of
the leaders of the Feminist Movement, as
it is called, in England, and when that
article is reproduced, as I am told it has
been, in such a paper as the New York
Times, then it seems to me it is time for
us to ask ourselves what is our judgment
upon such utterances.

What is it that is said.'^ It is said that
the real trouble with modern life is that
it has outgrown marriage, that marriage
[ 44 1


is simply a survival of slavery, and that
there will never be peace and happiness
in the family life until it is recognized
that woman should not be economically
dependent upon her husband. She must
be set free to have her own independent
income, and not be called upon to ask
her husband whenever she wishes money
to spend. Until that is reached, say
these leaders, there can be no peace in the
family. This is an economical question
with which I have nothing to do, and I
will not discuss it.

I pass to the second point, which is
this: Marriage is a survival of slavery
inasmuch as it binds the woman forever
to one man, and in the nature of the case
(we will not say in the large majority, but
in a very large number of cases) that be-
comes a burden that it is impossible for
a woman to bear. And what is the solu-
tion? What is the solution .^^ — it is this:
that instead of two people standing be-


fore the altar of God and there solemnly
promising to take one another ''for better,
for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sick-
ness and in health, till death parts them,"
the woman shall now he given her true place
in society, and instead of waiting for a man
to come and ask her to marry him, shall
choose a mate temporarily in order that he
may beget by her a child, and when that
function has been accomplished, the wom-
an, being economically independent, will
continue her life with the child and the
man will disappear, and of course the
number of mates will depend upon fancy, "^

* See "The Feminist Movement," Atlantic Monthly,
December, 1913. Whoever reads that shocking article
should also read Mr. E. S. Martin's ironical treat-
ment of the same subject in the Atlantic Monthly for
January, 1914, and also the virile pronouncement of
Professor William T. Sedgwick, professor of biology
in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the
New York Times, Sunday, January 18th, 1914. Not a
few readers will question whether there is the intimate
connection between the Feminist Movement and
Women's Suffrage that Professor Sedgwick insists upon.
But whatever may be the reader's opinion on that sub-
ject, the biological aspect of the Feminist Movement
deserves careful consideration. I would especially



Now what I would ask is this: Have
any of those people who talk in this
way, or have you, having read this ar-
gument, and wondered in your minds
whether there was anything in it, have
they ever talked to a woman who had
tried it? Well, I have, and not to one
or two. I have talked face to face with
women who have done just this thing
only to find that it was a ghastly failure.
Some one may say: '*It is a failure be-
cause public opinion has not been edu-
cated to the point where it justifies it.

recommend to those persons who feel that plain speak-
ing on such a fundamental subject as sex relation should
not be made from the pulpit the last paragraph of
Professor Sedgwick's article:

"But, meanwhile, where are the Churches? Time
was when they would have spoken with no uncertain
sound, but to-day they stand too often dumb, if not
deaf, before the rising tempest that threatens their
destruction. The epoch calls for plain speech, for the
taking of sides, for simple, old-fashioned morality, for
pure religion and undefiled. Those who are not with
us in the battle for the conservation of womanhood, of
home, of family, of morality, and of decency are
against us, and against those things which make human
life sweet and really worth living."

r 47 1


If that were done then the woman w^ould
not feel the pressure of pubhc opinion,
and her conscience would not trouble her."
Well, that is a fine view of human nature,
and it shows the deepest insight into cases
of conscience ! Why, my friends, all that
public opinion can do in such a case is to
delay the activity of conscience, and the
proof of that can be shown, if I were at
liberty to cite cases, w^hich I am not —
cases of women who have done this thing,
and nobody in the community knew it
but the man and the minister to whom
she came when the burden became too
heavy to bear. It was not public opinion
that has driven such a woman to con-
fession. What w^as it? It was this: The
aw^akening of the Christian consciousness
of that woman which has been teaching
us, through all these centuries since Jesus
w^alked the hills of Galilee, that the body
is a sacrament, and when it is not used
sacramentally it is sacrilege. The con-
f 48 1


science awakes to that fact and then
knows that the door is shut and the hfe
of love and peace is lost.

Some people talk, and some allow them-
selves to be influenced by such talk, as if
marriage were slavery. Why, of course
there are marriages that are slavery, but
there are unmarried lives that are the
lives of slaves. I have in mind a girl I
married eighteen years ago, who has just
come home from burying her only child.
How fine it would be if she had chosen a
temporary mate and now were free to
choose again! Not so — she is standing
hand in hand with the man who loves her,
and together they are waiting for the
comfort of God.

What is the Church, what are v/e to do
about the state of affairs that exists to-day
amongst people we know.^ Well, it is evi-
dent that the first thing that is necessary
for a dispassionate judgment is an at-
mosphere of calm. Now I ask, is that


atmosphere being produced by the read-
ing of novels, the whole purpose of which
is to show that conditions are so unfavor-
able to virtue that it would be miraculous
if a virtuous life were lived? The novelist
has all the facts in his or in her hand, and
they are arranged to suit convenience.
You and I have no opportunity to cross-
examine witnesses — we have no oppor-
tunity to hear the other side. We get
this one picture, the emotions are greatly
excited, and we are asked for an immedi-
ate judgment, and we give it at the next
lunch party we go to! Now that sort of
thing is not conducive to a noble, holy,
moral life.

Then, on the other hand, we are told:
*'The Church should admit the fact that
it has lost the moral leadership of the
world. It has passed to statesmen, to
journalists, to the stage." We might ask
about the statesman and the journalist:
have they separated themselves from the


Church, have they been in no way influ-
enced by the Church: But let that go.
In what sense is the stage a moral leader
of society to-day? The stage is naturally
and properly a money-making institu-
tion. If money can be made by the pro-
duction of the Oberammergau play, and
some actor of disreputable life seems fitted
by face or voice to act the part of the
Christus, he will be cast for that part. No
doubt there are many actors and actresses
of unblemished life — there are also many
of the vilest reputation. Of course we will
be told that art cannot be trammelled by
canons of morals. Well, how then can
art be a moral leader? The art of acting
presupposes actors, so character will in-
evitably appear in whatever men or
women do. If they be not moral they
cannot be the moral leaders. Moreover,
how is the "stage" attempting to lead?
What sort of plays are put upon the stage?
No doubt many of sweetness and light,
^ [51]


but does anybody suppose that a moral
judgment in regard to this matter is to
be reached by the representation upon a
stage of shameful physical disease? Is
anybody going to be made better from
hearing these things? Is it not inevitable
that in the minds of pure-hearted girls
there shall be planted the seed of sus-
picion, and instead of that fact which
everybody knows is a fact being limited,
these girls shall look about in the faces
of the men they see and wonder if they
are aflflicted with this virus? Or what
can be the effect upon men or women
either of the exhibition on the stage of the
unfortunate victim of lust? Is it not per-
fectly well known that the effect of those
things is suggestive, and that a girl who
goes to the theatre (I am not talking
about you, you are sheltered in many
ways) and sees that the dangers are so
overwhelming is very likely to return and
say to herself: ** What is the use of strug-


gling? If she could not escape how can
I?" It lowers the moral atmosphere and
therefore renders the spiritual nature sus-
ceptible to the germs of moral disease.

Some one says: **Yes, that is a very
old-fashioned way of talking, but you
ought to know, every^body ought to know,
that the best way of dealing with vice is
to represent it as it is, and let people see
what life is." My answer is that no
human being dare do it. Is there any
actor-manager who would dare represent
on the stage the shameful house, full of
drunkenness and obscenity and deformity
and rotten with disease.'^ Would anybody
dare represent things as they are? No,
they represent a purely imaginary picture,
and you may pay your money and go
and see that imaginary picture because
your minds are stirred and your moral
judgment is not called upon to act. I
do not wish to weary you, but I want to
get through with this thing, and there-


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Online LibraryLeighton ParksMoral leadership, and other sermons → online text (page 2 of 7)