The Vow of the Nazarite.
London: W. Tweedie & Co. (Limited) 337, Strand. 1877.page break
London: Barrett Sons and Co., Printers Seething Lane.
The Vow of the Nazarite.
"And I raised up your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord? But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not."
—Amos ii. 11, 12.
"Through a cloud
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude
To peace and truth its glorious way hath ploughed;
And on the neck of crowned fortune proud,
Hath reared God's trophies, and His work pursued'
—so Amos testified undaunted before the idolatry of courts and priests. Now, one crime of that bad period—the crime of all bad periods, and the type of a hundred other crimes to which, alike in its origin and its developments, it is allied—was luxury and intemperance. And in this verse the prophet confronts Israel with the high appeal of God, whether He had not put the fire of the Spirit into the heart of some of their sons, and they had quenched that fire by their blandishments and conventionalities: page 4 and whether He had not inspired some of their youths to take the vow of abstinence, and they, with the deliberate cynicism of worldlings, had tempted them to scorn and break that vow? Translated into strictly modern language, the verse would run:—"To protest against the effeminacies of self-indulgence I give yon preachers; to rouse you from the surfeit of intemperance I enrolled your sons as abstainers: My preachers you silenced by your godless sophisms; my young abstainers you seduced by your ensnaring wiles."
page 6 Nor do we want the beardless atheists, who, with the crude smatterings of a secondhand scepticism, can not only demolish with one flash of their splendid intellects, and set aside with one wave of their contemptuous hand, the truths which till yesterday a Faraday and a Whewell preached, but who, wiser than the aged in their own conceit, even revel in the airs of disdain with which they can insult as dupes or hypocrites the saints of God, the very latchet of whose shoes they are not worthy to stoop down and unloose. Nor, again, do we want the youths of coarse fibre and vacant heart, who, in the first treasons of a spurious liberty, court the temptations which they should shun like the pestilence; and knowing well God's doom on drunkenness and lust, yet go as an ox to the slaughter, and as a fool to the correction of the stocks. Nor do we want any, be they men or be they women, who do but take their license in the fields of time, heedless of the degradation that follows them, heedless that they are but adding blackness to earth's darkness by their wasted lives. This age wants, England wants, the Church of Christ wants, God wants, those who, self-dedicated, like the ideal Nazarite, to noble ends, have not lost the natural grace and bloom of youthful modesty. We do want natures strong, and sweet, and simple, to whom life is no poor collection of fragments, its first volume an obscene and ' noisy jest-book, its last a grim tragedy or a despicable farce; but those to whom, however small the stage, their life is a regal drama, played out before the eyes of God and men. We do want souls, fresh and virginal, dowered with the hate of hate and scorn of scorn against oppression and selfishness, and the love of love for all that is pure, and generous, and true; souls that shall say, seeing that life is short and the fame of virtue immortal, I choose —God helping me—I choose the narrow, uphillward path, up which before me my Saviour bore the Cross, and, not wishing to change for one of earth's cankered roses its hallowed thorns,—let false friends discountenance, let the worldly persecute, let fools deride,—but, mutare aut timere sperno, I scorn either to change or fear.
"Ah, what avails to understand
The merits of a spotless shirt,
A dapper boot, a little hand,
If halt the little soul be dirt?"
Well, then, in one word we want the spirit of willing Nazarites; and since total abstinence was the central conception of the vow of the Nazarite, while I am not at all astonished that selfish Sadducees or corrupted Hellenisers should hate and scoff at it, it is to me amazing and portentous that even some good and true men should represent such self-denial as Manichæan, as unscriptural, as a mark of inferiority—as I know not what. I have no time, and in this pulpit it should be surely needless, to shatter each of these sophisms to atoms, and dash it indignantly aside as one more instance in which—as in order to defend polygamy, and the Inquisition, and pauperism, and the slave-trade, and the suppression of science, and the obstacles to discovery, and the deification of ignorance, and the right divine of kings to govern page 7 wrong—the Devil, substituting the fetish worship of the dead letter for the fire of the living spirit, has—as though man should use a medicine as a poison, and the light of the Pharos for a wreckers' reef—quoted Scripture for his purpose, and made it the cloak of superstition and the shield of wrong. Yet let me say at once that I am not going to be guilty of the dictatorial Pharisaism which says to any one, "You are committing a sin if you do not take to total abstinence." That I do not say; and even in this age of bronze lacquer, and impudent personalities, in which nothing is more common than wilful calumny, let no one attribute to me that language:—but what I do say to every one of you, and if the subject be entirely new to this pulpit, I say it all the more—and most of all do I say it if it shall shock in any that epicurean self-satisfaction which is utterly fatal to all noble life—I do say to every one of you, and I say it fearlessly, and downrightly, in God's name, that you are bound in the best way you can—bound in the sight of God, bound as a Christian, bound as a patriot, bound as an ordinarily good man—to go up every one of you before the tribunal of your own consciences, and, whether you be familiar with them or unfamiliar, to lay very solemnly to heart the stern facts which I shall try to brand upon your memories to-day. The Universities, thank God, have awakened from the dead, sensual sleep of the eighteenth century. The old type of college Fellows vegetating for life in vapid and useless luxury is utterly extinct. Even from among undergraduates—though there be perhaps among them less of the modesty and respect for elders, and gratitude for kindness, which were virtues which still existed in the days of their fathers, there has yet, I hope, utterly vanished the old coarse type of ignorant and dissolute idlers. It was but the other day (a thing which even ten years ago would have been utterly impossible) that at Oxford the Sheldonian Theatre was used, and the Vice-Chancellor presided at a thing once deemed so vulgar and plebeian as a temperance meeting, at which some of the leading professors spoke; and Cambridge is taking her part, and taking it right nobly, in the great battle between Ebal and Gerizim, light and darkness, heaven and hell; and hundreds, I hope and believe, of her manly youths are daily learning more and more, in the light of shining examples, to scorn delights and love labours, in the high endeavour "to make earth like heaven and every man like God." And if there be but one here who cares only to sleep and feed, and steep himself in the gross mud-honey of a sensual life, if there be but one who does not care to do God's work, or to to help His children, or to make better this sin-devastated world, to him I speak not; but to all you, the rest, I say that, acknowledging as you do the law of charity, it is not charity merely to toss to human suffering the crumbs of your superfluity, but to probe its causes, to anticipate, to avert them.page 8
It is a characteristic—a very fine and redeeming characteristic—of this age, that all who dare to call themselves Christians, are thoroughly in earnest (thoroughly, and more wisely, and more systematically, and less despairingly in earnest than of old) in the work of social amelioration; but yet,—mainly because there is here, there is at our doors, there is in the very midst of us, an evil, colossal and horrible—an evil with which, to its utter shame, the State has not yet dared to grapple—the evil, I mean, of universal drinking and universal drunkenness—not only has much of all this vast charitable effort been wholly insignificant for good, but some of it has been absolutely powerful for harm, increasing the evils which it wished to alleviate, and perpetuating the miseries which it desired to relieve. And in the hearing of some of you, in whose hands shall be the future of England, who will live to fill her pulpits, to write her literature, to make her laws, and who will, I hope, be eager to help in tearing away this poisoned robe which has been maddening the blood of our country; I say, with all the emphasis of a conviction not hastily or rashly formed, that not only are our best agencies of mercy neutralised by this one vice of intemperance, but that all these agencies concentrated into their most effective vigour would do less—infinitely less—good than would be done by the expulsion of this one preventable cause of sin and misery. Called by the Providence of God from the brightness of a life spent at our great public schools, to face the repellent squalor of London pauperism, that has been brought home to me by vivid personal experience. "I speak that which I know, and testify that which I have seen." But I do not ask you—you in your learned culture and cloistered calm—I who am but a London clergyman, with no leisure whatever to be a student—I do not ask you for one moment to accept on my poor authority a dictum for which, if time permitted, I could simply overwhelm you with irresistible evidence; evidence which, in spite of disdain and in spite of struggle, should arrest your attention, and fetter and rivet to the rock of conviction even him among you to whom this topic is most distasteful. "Every day's experience tends more and more to confirm me in the opinion that the temperance cause lies at the foundation of all social and political reform." These are not mine, but the weighty words of the calm, wise statesman, Richard Cobden. "Every benevolent institution utters the same complaint. A monster obstacle is in our way—strong drink; by whatever name the demon is styled, in whatever way it presents itself, this, this prevents our success. Remove this one obstacle, and our course will be onwards, and our labours will be blessed." These words are not mine, they are the massive eloquence of Mr. John Bright. "We are convinced that if a statesman, who desired to do the utmost for his country, were thoughtfully to inquire which of the topics of the day deserved the most intense force of his attention, page 9 the true reply—the reply which would be exacted by due deliberation—would be that he should study the means by which this worst of plagues should be stayed." Those are the words of the late thoughtful and lamented Charles Buxton. "Profligacy, vice, and immorality are not thundering at our gates like a besieging army, but they are undermining the very ground on which we stand." Those words so deep in their pathos are yet the utterance of the genial and beloved Lord Palmerston. "Let us crush these artists in human slaughter, who have reconciled their country to sickness and ruin, and spread over the pitfalls of debauchery such a bait as cannot be resisted." In such stern words spoke, more than a hundred years ago, the worldly and polished Chesterfield. Are not such statements from such men—undeniable, uncontradicted, nay, even unchallenged as they are —at least enough to waken the deep slumber of a decided opinion even if they be not enough to break down the clenched antagonism of an invincible prejudice, or to dispel the stupid selfishness of an incurable frivolity? They are not the words of men at whom you can sneer as crochety politicians or temperance fanatics, or whom the very best of you all, in his own estimation, can set aside with a disparagement or demolish with a gibe. The very cleverest of youthful graduates,—or even of undergraduates,—cannot quite stab these men with an epigram, or refute them, as fops refuted Berkeley, with a grin. To sneer at these would be to condemn yourselves as incapable; these not to know would argue yourselves unknown. And yet these are but a few of many such warnings uttered by some of the best, greatest, wisest in the land, and you ought not, you must not, you surely dare not, ignore them.
But if these be not enough I will add something more. Taking alcohol as a convenient generic name for the specific element in all kinds of intoxicating drink, I will ask you to look with me for a moment at what it is not and what it is, and at what it costs. It used to be believed that alcohol was a food; it is now conclusively demonstrated (and when I say "conclusively demonstrated," I ask you to believe that I mean in the most literal sense conclusively demonstrated) that it contains not one single element—whether nitrogenous or hydro-carbonic—of food; and that, as one of the first modern chemists has said, there is in nine quarts of alcohol less food than can be spread on the end of a table-knife. Nor is it a source of strength, for alike, in Africa and India, in the Arctic and in the Antarctic, and by great labour employers in the temperate zones, and by distinct experiments with nawies in gangs, and soldiers on the march, it is matter of proof that those can labour best, both physically and mentally, in whom the cold is not intensified by the weakening reaction from artificial stimulant, and in whom the sun's fierceness has "no alcoholic ally within the brain." Nor is it a source of health; for the lives of total abstainers are now known to be more valuable page 10 in an insurance than other lives; and not a few very eminent living physicians have testified that "the daily use of it, even in quantities conventionally deemed moderate, not only causes some of the most fearful and dangerous maladies, but even injures the body, and diminishes the mental powers to an extent of which few people are aware." Least of all, then, is it a necessity, seeing that it has been happily unknown to whole races, and prohibited by immense religions, and in England alone three millions of total abstainers, of whom very few have ever repented, can testify, that since they abandoned it, they, like the Nazarite of old, have been clearer of brain, and more strong of limb, more vigorous in health, and more calm in happiness. I might go on to any extent with such evidence; and on the faith of it, and on the yet stronger faith of daily experience, I again assert, not as a dubious theory, but as an established fact, that to men in ordinary health, alcohol is not a food, nor a necessity, nor a source of health, nor a source of warmth, nor of physical strength, least of all of mental power; but, that when it is not a potent medicine, it is a mere luxury—a luxury which is at the best harmless, but which is frequently dangerous, sometimes fatal, always quite superfluous, never particularly noble.
Let us understand then well, my brethren, alcohol is a luxury, and nothing but a luxury, and if being healthy we indulge in it at all, it is not because we need it, but because we like it. Well, and this being so, what does the luxury cost? At what expense does the nation, as a nation, gratify its liking? I will tell you. It costs us in tillage the waste of millions of acres of soil; in food, the destruction of millions of tons of grain; in hard cash, the deleterious absorption of millions of pounds of money. It is beyond all question the one main, if not the sole, cause of the squalid, degrading, and dangerous pauperism, against which some of you will have to struggle hereafter in the streets of London and other great cities; and in the middle classes, who have often to strive so hard, you would be surprised if I could show you how much they might yearly save by this abstinence alone. And though that is something, though it is a consideration not to be despised by youths who will soon have to make their way with daily increasing difficulty, amid the hard competitions of an overcrowded population—and though it will help them very materially in the stern battle of life to have acquired simple and self-denying habits, yet all this saving to individuals, all this saving to the nation of yearly increasing of millions of pounds, which would make it not only more wealthy, but also more prosperous by incalculable advantages, is the least important point. "Tanto opere, tanto labore et impcndio constat, quod hominis mentem mutet ac furorem gignat millibus hunc sceleri deditis," said the Elder Pliny nearly 2,000 years ago, and it is now more true a thousand times. In any other connection you would think this vast page 11 expenditure, this colossal waste, a consideration of overwhelming importance, yet in this it is the smallest element in the question. Of far deeper, of far more awful significance, is what it costs in disease, what it costs in crime, what it costs in misery, what it costs to the glory of England now, and the hopes of English generations for years to come. I should have no time, I have no heart, to tell you all that could be told under this head. I entreat you not to turn impatiently from it, nay—I tell you plainly you have no right to turn impatiently from it. For the drinking of some means inevitably, as things are, the drunkenness of many; and these who sin, these who suffer, these who die, are our own flesh and blood. I believe that there is scarcely one family in England which has not suffered from this hideous plague, scarce a house in England where there is not one dead. And oh! "is it nothing to you all, ye that pass by You have heard what drink costs to the nation in money, what does it cause in disease and accident? Ask the dreary page of statistics, and you will read that in so-called accidents, but accidents perfectly preventable, it costs us broken limbs, and shipwrecked vessels, and burnt houses, and shattered railway trains, and the deaths of children, overlaid by drunken mothers, or beaten savagely by drunken fathers; and to tell you what it costs in disease, I should have to take you, not in fancy, but in hard fact, to what the poet saw as the result of intemperance in meats and drinks.
"A lazarhouse it seemed, wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseased: all maladies
Of ghastly spasm, and racking torture: qualm
Of heart-sick agony—all feverous kinds—
Dropsies, and asthmas, and heart-racking rheums.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: despair
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch;
And over them triumphant Death his dart
Shook—but delayed to strike."
This is what those who claim a right to speak with authority tells us it costs in sheer disease; and which of you is so ignorant of English history, of English literature, of English life, as not to know, further, of noblest reputations stained, of glorious intellects ruined, of great souls embittered, of invaluable lives cut short? And what does it cost in crime? I will tell you, not as a surmise of my own, but on the recorded testimony, on the emphatic evidence of almost every judge and magistrate and recorder on the English bench. Remember that those arrested for drunkenness do not furnish one-tithe of the drunkards, and then shudder to hear that in one year alone 203,989 were arrested for crimes in which drunkenness was entered as a part of the charge, and that last year 5,131 women—only think of that, and page 12 of all the hideous degradation, all the unspeakable horror, which it implies—were arrested for drunkenness in Middlesex alone. In every province, in every county, in every great city of the United Kingdom, it has been stated from the seat of justice again and again that but for drunkenness there would not be in England one-tenth of the existing crime. It is getting a hideous common-place of judges. Only a few days ago Lord Coleridge said at Durham that but for drink we might shut up nine-tenths of our gaols. Last week was brought up before Mr. Justice Manisty, at Manchester, a wretched creature in man's semblance, who, as though he were worse than a natural brute beast made to be taken and destroyed, had brutally kicked to death a wife far advanced in pregnancy, and the judge, in sentencing him to the gallows, said, "You have been found guilty of the crime of wilful murder, your victim being your own wife. You are a sad, sad instance of the consequences of indulging in drink, which has brought you to this fearful condition. It is only owing to God's mercy that this has not brought many more into a similar case. I am afraid if this vice continues to be indulged in as it now is, that many more will stand in a like position to you. Oh, that we could by administering the law put an end to it." Ah, he might well say that; but dare you blink such testimony? Do you think that they say these things rashly? And if you will not listen to the reiterated warnings of the judges in their ermine, will you listen to the noble-hearted missionaries, who tell us what drink costs to the glory of England in the execration of her name over whole continents, and the ruin of her efforts among whole populations? Could I summon the Maories of New Zealand—once so healthy that you might smite a man with a broad axe, and in a few days he would be well, now, in the language of a high Government official, "almost as bad as the English, polluted and contaminated by their drink,"—what would they say? If I could summon the Indians of North America, once not unhappy, now degraded, maddened, exterminated by our accursed fire-water, what would they say? They have said that because of it they spit at the name of Christian. If we ask the Mahometans what do they say? Is there a Christian in England with conscience so dead, with heart so rough, with cheek so brazen, as not to blush when he hears that if they see one of their number drunk they have been heard to say, "He has left Mahomet, and gone to Jesus." If we ask the Hindoos what do they say? They have said by the lips of their eloquent representative, Keshub Chunder Sen, that all the splendid benefits of our English rule in India have been nullified and counterbalanced by our teaching them the use of beer and brandy; that the wailing of widows rends the air of India with curses against the British Government for having introduced this thing. And, page 13 again, from the Southern Sea the voice of yet another missionary says to us:—"If you love missions, help, help to dethrone this demon of intemperance—our reproof before the heathen, the blight of our infant churches." And oh, sirs, when you hear such things, are we not—we, the sons of proud, glorious, free England—are we not to our burning infamy what one has called us, the drunken Helots of the world.
"Sit yon down,
And I will wring your heart, for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom hath not brazed it so
That it is proof and bulwark against sense."
But, ah! I have no tongue to utter, no imagination to conceive, no calculus to measure, the immensity of this national curse, this national calamity. It would require the vision of the Angels of Record, if they can gaze on it with eyes unblinded by such tears as angels weep, to tell of those miseries of millions for centuries—"to pass, as it were, from chamber to chamber of the prophet's vision of abomination, and to mark the crime in every form, the vice in every shape, the disease in every aspect that can make disease horrible," that has been caused by the corrupted fruit of this tree of the knowledge of evil. He alone whose ears are open to the lion's roar and the raven's cry can catch the numberless accents of that wail of incurable anguish and uncontrollable despair which has streamed upwards for generations, till the vault of heaven has become "one vast whispering gallery," to prolong and reverberate the groans of those who have slain their own peace by this voluntary imprisonment. He alone by whom the hairs of our head are all numbered can count the widows who are widows because of drink; the madmen who are mad because of it; the grey heads that it has made grey; the sad hearts that it has crushed with sadness; the ruined families that it has ruined; the brilliant minds which it has quenched; the unfolding promise that it has cankered; the bright and happy boys and girls whom it has blasted into shame and misery; the young and the gifted whom it has hurried headlong into dishonoured and nameless graves. Is it not Shakespeare himself who says, by the mouth of the disgraced and ruined Cassio, "O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee Devil"? What does drink cost in human misery? Ah, how can I tell you? Can I count the leaves of the forest, or the sands upon the shore? And the sounds of this misery are like the sighing of the leaves of illimitable forests, and the plashing on the shores of unfathomable seas. He alone whose ear is open to the cry of page 14 the poor and destitute can hear the wailing of that multitude of miserable, miserable women, who, taking in despair to the drink which their husbands have taught them, get degradingly content with the starving squalor which they call their homes; can hear the poor wretch who has vainly followed her drunken tyrant to the public-house moan, in agonies of entreaty, "Come home! come home!" or see her watching and waiting in that foul mockery of a home till the sot reels back at midnight, and, with his brain all on fire with that vitriol madness, lifts against her unprotected womanhood his cowardly and brutal hand, "till the filthy bye-lane rings to the yells of the trampled wife." Ah, I cannot go on; and you—you cannot bear to hear of these things. Yet these things are, and worse—if there be worse—than these; and though you may, if you please, lay a flattering unction to your conscience, and call this rhetoric, or call it exaggeration, it is just the plain, bare, hideous truth. And while you shrink from these things in words, are your sympathies so slothful that you do not shrink from them in reality? Oh, that I could harrow up into a little manliness those delicate sensibilities! Oh, that I could thrill through horror into action those tastes, like that of an insect, "which feels the shaking of the table, but does not feel the thunder." For it is the horrible fact that the drink which we, as a nation, are drinking, not from the necessities of thirst, but from the mere luxuries of appetite—drink often adulterated with the vilest and most maddening ingredients—yes, this rubied and Circean cup which we sip, and smile while it is converting thousands of our brethren into swine—this subtle, serpentine, insidious thing which we cherish in our bosoms, and laugh and play with its brightness, while it is stinging thousands of our brothers into raging madness—costs us, as I have shown, millions of money, myriads of criminals, thousands of paupers, thousands of ruined women, hundreds and thousands of men and women goaded by misery into suicide and madness, with every blossom in what might have been the garland of their lives blighted as by a fury's breath.
And again I say, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" Is it nothing to you, young men who, if you be worth anything at all, better than to cumber the barren ground of wasted and useless lives, will be called upon, a year or two hence, to take up your cross, and, the mirth and brightness of youth being ended, to take your happy and holy part where God shall place you in the ranks of the great battle between sin and death? Shall it be nothing to you that the blood of your brothers and sisters in the great family of God is being daily poured upon the alters of this deadlier Moloch of a Tophet more awful than that of Hinnon's vale, while in discovering that you are your brother's keeper you become his Cain? Aye, and are we to go on for another generation with our 8,500 public-houses in London page 15 alone, and see another generation of our country's children grow up amid the same dangers and the same temptations, exposed like a defenceless prey to those evil spirits; nay, even transmitting that awful hereditary craving which shall leave to yet another generation, for all their lives, the reality of intense temptation, the possibilities of terrible catastrophe? Even if every one of you be indeed really safe (whereas, what I feel sure of is, that without the grace of God sought in earnest prayer not one of us is safe at any time, not one of us is safe from anything), but even if you be quite sure that you will never fall unawares in love with this tamed viper, which may seem a bright and harmless creature of God, until, as, alas! too many of the strong and the gifted and the noble who have been wounded by it can testify, at some moment of deep misery or crushing disappointment it slides into the soul with tempting whisper, or fixes in the heart its envenomed fang; even if you be personally safe from this destroyer of all health and virtue, this breeder of all disease and sin;—will you do nothing for, will you think nothing of, those myriads and multitudes to whom this drink means brutality and degradation, disease and death? If so, if you hear with callous indifference, nay, with open dislike, nay, with angry repugnance what you have heard to-day, as though forsooth some rude untutored voice broke in upon your balanced serenity, then by all means, as far as I am concerned, insult the speaker to your heart's content; eat, drink, and be merry; go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper. But if, indeed, you don't care to do anything, not even to lift one finger to save this England from this living death, then stand aside from among us, and do not call yourself a philanthropist; do not call yourself a Christian. It may not be your duty—I have not said, I do not say, that it is—to take any pledge of total abstinence as the amulet of a hallowed purpose or the safeguard of a strengthened youth, or the outward sign that you too will take your part, now and hereafter, in this great struggle between heaven and hell; but if you do not feel called upon to do this, at least respect and honour the motives of those who, in special positions, and because of special duties, think that in doing it they have obeyed their country's and their Saviour's bidding; and that in the strength of heaven and for the sake of Christ and Christ's perishing little ones, they have been called upon to act in the spirit of the high language of St. Paul—" I will neither eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby my brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak."
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