The National Sin.
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The National Sin.
"Sound an Alarm.
"—Joel ii. 1.
Throughout the ever-changing ages of the world's history, through all the struggles of human passion, human suffering, and human ignorance, through all the contrasts and inconsistencies which mark the painful puzzle of human life, there is, my brethren, one special voice of God for ever sounding above the tumult—one voice that never wavers and that never changes. It appears at intervals amid the blackness of the world's wickedness, like the lightning-flash on some pitch-dark night, shining through the blackest cloud, and throwing up every minute object into brilliant light, and then again disappearing and leaving darkness all around, and that voice is the voice of the warning of Almighty God against the unchecked spread of a nation's sin. It is true that this voice is rarely heeded: it is true that men will jest and laugh whilst the flashes that precede the fiery shower which will destroy them are flying around their heads: it is true that men will suffer the pleasure, and the turmoil, and the confusion, and the money-getting, of this busy world to shut out the sound of the thunder from their ears; but that voice is never silent, and it is never untruthful; and when it is unheeded, those floodgates of the wrath of God are unloosed, before which no nation, no people, can stand. And as it page 4 spake from Heaven close upon 3,000 years ago by the mouth of the Prophet Joel, and in the words of my text warned the Israelites of the impending capture and desolation of Jerusalem, so does it echo this very day through the mouth of the ministry of the Christian Church, and to us who feebly fill the prophet's office, from the modern pulpit, Almighty God says, "Sound an alarm." And it is in fulfilment of this plain and irresistible, but ever unpopular mission, that men are to be found in advance of their times, willing to court the supercilious contempt of the unbelieving, and the open hostility of the licentious, by a vigorous public denunciation of sin. Almighty God says: "Sound an alarm." And lo! the alarm must and shall be sounded, and whether it be in the palace of royalty, or in the cottage of the humble, whether it be the open flagrant violation of the law of God and man, or whether it be the secret cankering leprous sin of the closed door and the hushed voice, if it be but part of the deadly struggle between Christ and Satan, there must be no flinching from the delivering of God's ultimatum, which is, "Repent or perish."
And, brethren, what means it, I ask you, that upon this very night one hundred pulpits in and around the city of Manchester—too often, alas! in these days of division directed against each other—are united in one holy cause? Why are those whose hands are full enough of work at home gathered in that northern city, determined that they will earn by their labours the reproach which is sure to be freely heaped upon them, that they are "enthusiasts" and "intolerant agitators?" Is it not that they have been awakened to the peril thickening around their nation 1 Is it not because the Ruler of the universe has spoken to their hearts, and has bid them "Sound an alarm?" Ah, believe me, brethren, that the world is ever bound to thank God for her enthusiasts. The Prophet Joel, page 5 who wrote the Book from which my text is taken, was a great "fanatic" when, in obedience to the Divine command, he "sounded his alarm." The Prophet Elijah was a "desperate enthusiast" when Ahab met him with the sneer, "Art thou he that troublest Israel I Canst thou not leave us alone," he would say, "spare thy denunciations, and keep thy extreme views to thyself? Thou troublest Israel—away with thee." Jonah the Prophet was an "intolerant bigot" when, after that first natural shrinking from his mission, he stalked through the streets of Nineveh with his wild appearance and his unearthly cry, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." John the Baptist was a "troubler of the people" when, clad in his camel's hair and half starved by his asceticism, he drove those thousands to repentance and confession, and carried his noble mission into the very palace of the king? And, lastly, was not Jesus, the incarnate Saviour Himself, a "bold and enthusiastic reformer" when He denounced the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, and "turned the world upside down" with His outspoken philosophy? And through them all there ran that same electric power which will never be absent from the world's reformers as long as the world shall last. The finger of Almighty God had touched their lips, and His voice had breathed into their hearts the stirring message, "Sound an alarm."
And what is the alarm that this day is being sounded in above one hundred churches at Manchester, and which I have been especially and personally requested to sound in this metropolitan cathedral to-night? It is not that any foreign invader threatens your shores; it is not that any internal disturbance is imperilling your peace; but it is that licentiousness and immorality of a certain definite and tangible kind are dragging down this nation to a level lower than heathenism. It is that England—great and powerful page 6 and Christian England—is suffering herself to be shorn of her locks of power by the modern Delilah of strong drink, in whose harlot lap she is daring to slumber. It is that the nation of Europe whose most especial boast it is that she emancipates slaves all over the world—that she interposes with self-denying generosity to check wholesale cruelties in less enlightened nations—it is that this nation is suffering her own children to be bound hand and foot in the shackles of a slavery more demoralising than any that galled the negro in the plantations of Jamaica; it is that there is not a grade of society, not a profession of mankind, not a branch of commerce, not an incident of social or even religious life, which is not mixed up with the use of that which is desolating homes, murdering wives, starving little children, and wrecking souls for whom the Saviour died; it is that this nineteenth century of civilisation and scientific research has allowed itself to be utterly hoodwinked into exalting that which has proved itself to be the progenitor of every wickedness into an angel of light, without which good Christians think they cannot live—making it to be the friend of the family, without whose presence no relative can be interred, no infant christened, no sorrow endured, no pleasure enjoyed. Let me ask you, in this House of God, my brothers—Is it not a miserable paradox to go on repeating that cuckoo-cry about England being better free than sober. Free and yet not sober? Why there is no slave-driver so brutal, there is no servitude so uncompromising, as the galling yoke of intemperance, and amongst the impossibilities of this law-governed universe may fairly be ranked the "freedom" of an intemperate nation. I am no stranger, brethren, to the difficulty of bringing home the full power of this evil to the minds of those who have not witnessed it for themselves. The fact is that it is too terrible to be believed, and I do not wish to page 7 sadden and to sicken you with details of our nation's shame, but I would speak to you first simply on the grounds of common-sense. I would ask you to look with me for a few moments at the utter shocking waste that is entailed by this national infatuation. Was there ever a period in England's history when the contrast between rich and poor was more sharp, more apparent, than it is to-day? Was there ever a time when charity was more eagerly solicited, when pauperism was more appallingly rampant? And yet, amidst all this want and suffering, this nation is annually pouring out a perfect river of gold upon a mere indulgence—an enormous sum of money, which outstrips all the other national expenses. £150,000,000 of money are wasted—aye, ten thousand times worse than wasted—in intoxicating drinks: a sum which is £60,000,000 in excess of our whole national revenue, and one-sixth of our national debt—a sum which means more than £20 spent in intoxicating drinks upon an average by every family in the United Kingdom; and thus, mark you, all the legitimate trades of this country, except one, are depressed, and toil-worn men and women groan under the burden of their local taxation. I would venture to ask when will the hard-worked business men of England, who are wincing under the rates of this great metropolis in which they live—when will they have the courage to rise up and fight against the tyranny that makes them bear the burthen of England's drunkenness? When will they realise that their pinching and privation and struggles come from the fact that there are in this wealthy country 3,500,000 paupers to be supported by the rates, and that from unmistakable evidence we can prove that out of every hundred inmates of our workhouses no less than 75 per cent, are there directly or indirectly through drink, and that £3 out of every £4 of the poor-rates of this country, which are wrung at such bitter page 8 cost from struggling householders, are paid simply for the paupers that the drink has made. I venture to repeat, without fear of contradiction, what has been said before, that it would be infinitely cheaper for this country to pay off at any cost the some 200,000 people who are engaged in this pauper-making traffic, and so ease the terrible and ever-increasing burden of those rates which are pressing both on the rich and on the poor.
But you will readily understand, my brethren, that it is not upon grounds of national economy that I am sounding my alarm in this cathedral to-night. I would say, let this wealthy nation become as insolvent as any Eastern principality that you like, and she will come under no pulpit lash from me, so long as her account at the bank of her God has a balance on her side. No, it was not to save a few paltry thousands of pounds, it was not to lighten a few heavy rates, that you and I were enrolled in the army of the Crucified: but it is because this black and blighting curse is not only robbing men of money, but it is robbing Jesus of the souls He loves. It is desolating our churches, it is swelling infidelity and sin, it is originating, strengthening, and fostering prostitution and Sabbath-breaking. Let me tell you that at a census which was taken not long since in a teeming London parish upon a Sunday night, 18,000 persons were found in various places of worship, but not less than 20,000 were found in the drink-shops and gin-palaces- of the same parish, giving on that single Sunday night a clear gain of something like 2,000 for the devil—and it is simply notorious that wherever the English name and the English flag are borne by British enterprise and British commerce, there rises up the wail which follows in the track of British intemperance. A native prince of high rank in India, in a published speech delivered in this metropolis, has openly said: "The helpless page 9 widows of India are uttering their curses against the British Government for having introduced this thing into their midst, and the cry of India is echoed hack to us from the far, far west. 'What do you preach?' asked a North American Indian not long since of a missionary. 'Christ,' was the answer. 'Then away with you,' he said, ' we don't want Christ. We were once a powerful people, and our enemies feared us, and our wigwams were healthy, and our young men were brave; but the white man came, and he preached Christ to us, and he brought the accursed fire-water with him, and now our tribe is enervated, our wigwams are poor, our glory is gone—we do not want Christ.' "
I believe that the most awful, and at the same time the most significant, symptom of England's shame may be found in this fact, that intemperance is poisoning the blood of England at its very source, for it is obtaining a fatal hold upon the women of this country. There is no sight upon this lair earth that is more painful, more repulsive, more do-grading, than a drunken woman. There is no example more demoralising to the young, more hardening to the old, more lowering to the whole tone of the nation, than the example of the wives and the mothers of England abased by this most horrible sin. Those who squander their eloquence in the House of Commons and elsewhere in supporting the present system of multiplying beer-houses and gin-palaces around the dwellings of the poor, whilst, mark you, they would not for the universe have them round their own homes, would do well to study the official report recently delivered from the visiting justices of Westminster House of Correction. During the past twelve months no less than 5,131 women were convicted of drunkenness at this place of punishment alone—five thousand and more of the sisters and of the wives of England in one house of correction alone five thousand page 10 mothers of England destined to poison the blood of their unconscious offspring with those infernal fires that have coursed through their own veins, robbing them of purity, of happiness, of home, of heaven. And when in future years some poor miserable malefactor is led out to yield up his life upon the gallows from some foul murder committed under the influence of drink, physiologists know—aye, and Almighty God knows, too—that his poor trembling defence is literally and absolutely true, "I couldn't help it." No, he couldn't help it, for he drew in the poison that made him a murderer from his mother's breast. That which should have been to him the purest fountain of human life made him a baby-drunkard from his mother's womb. And, then, we who denounce this terrible evil are told—we who would stop this wholesale generating of criminals, this poisoning of the very springs of life without being too tender as to the means we use—we are told that we are madmen and fanatics, and must be hooted down by society. Yes, such men are fanatics, thank Almighty God for it. It is a blessed and it is a heaven-sent fanaticism. It is a fanaticism like that of Elijah, and Jonah, and John the Baptist—the total abstainer, and the reprover of kings. But, I confess, it seems to me that if there is any madness in the matter at all it is all upon the other side.
And then we come to the question—Is it possible for us to do anything to stop this torrent of sin which seems to be sweeping all before it?
My brethren in Christ, the real value of lifting this into a pulpit rather than a platform question, lies in this, that we are able to deal with it from the pulpit not from a utilitarian but from a Christian point of view. There is but one remedy that can reach right down into the depths of this foul pool of iniquity, and that is the remedy which is given to us in the page 11 cross of Jesus Christ. In the Temperance movement, from first to last, I pray Almighty God to teach me to know nothing amongst you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Earthly philosophies, and the labour of philanthropists and secular reformers, and the spread of education,—all will do much to ameliorate the suffering fever of the sins of human life, but they cannot go down to the heart of the disease. To take a simple illustration from the history of the Old Testament. You see Moses crying to the Lord, for the waters were bitter, and the people were perishing; and the Lord showed him a certain tree, which, when he had cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. And as the cry of this generation rises up into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts, He points us to the wood of a certain tree, which is the wood of the rugged cross of Calvary, and he says, "There is no man, or woman, or child so feeble but that they can help to cast that wood into the waters of human life which the sin of man has so embittered." And you do not need me to tell you that the wood of the cross of Christ must imply self-denial in things lawful, self-mortification in things pleasant, self-abnegation in things harmless in themselves, if they are standing in the way of Christ's kingdom.
Experience, ten thousand times confirmed, has proved that there is only one cure for the individual drunkard, and that is absolute, uncompromising abstinence from that which has ensnared him. Some lover of souls must take the poor serpent-stricken man by the hand, and must bid him fix his eyes upon the crucified One, and suffer that lesson to be burned into his soul. His motto must be for the future, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh," and in plucking out his right eye, or cutting off his right hand, he will enter into the sunshine of the pardon of his God, who page 12 has never ceased to love him. And if any one of you would taste the unspeakable sweetness of leading such an one back to Jesus—if you would approach the work with clean hands and with an unfettered heart, then I say that you may use your Christian liberty in bearing that cross first yourself. Understand me, brethren. I would say that there is no command from God that I can find that all Christians must be abstainers; but I do say this, that a Christian who loves his Lord may be an abstainer if he chooses. He may say boldly, "This thing never hurt me, but it has stung my brother's soul to the very quick, and if it were ten thousand times a gift of my God I would renounce it in the present distress for the love of Jesus and the love of souls. I will take King David of old for my pattern, when he poured the water from the well of Bethlehem upon the burning sand rather than drink it, for it was the price of blood. I will follow the example of those Corinthians who were sanctioned by the Apostle in abstaining from the Divine ordinance of marriage in a time of great distress; or I will imitate St. Paul, who declared that it was good to drink no wine, if it caused his brother to offend. In short, I will take the wood of the certain tree—the tree of the cross of personal self-denial—and I will cast it into the waters of my life." And, oh! you cannot think how it will sweeten those bitter waters, how it will return in blessings from on high; you can scarcely form an idea how it wins souls, how it leavens society, how it checkmates the devil upon his own ground, when the leaders of society, the shepherds of souls, the guides of their fellows, boldly accept this blessed line of self-denial for others.
And, brethren, I said I would only speak to you in this matter in the name of my Master, and if' there is upon the floor of this cathedral a single person who believes from the page 13 very bottom of his heart in that blessed message of "Jesus only" as the golden key of Heaven—if there is one who, having been forgiven himself the bitter debt of sin, is longing to pour out his soul in gratitude to Jesus who has forgiven him, I would venture to claim that one as a recruit for our Temperance army in whatever corps he may select. I would ask you not to allow yourself to be put off by any of those well-known soul-opiates whereby the world can still the voice of God; men will tell you that we exaggerate the evil, that we cannot deal with the mischief, and that because we can do so little we had better do nothing; but if I could only take you by the hand, and if I could lead you down a dozen streets in the populous parish committed to my care, I am convinced that, if you have love within you, you would hesitate no longer to throw yourself into this movement. I would show the pinched faces and the bare feet of little children, which would haunt you when you were once more around the fireside of your own happily temperate home. I would show you an aged father, in the grey evening of his life, when all nature within him is craving for rest, and peace, and quiet, simply mourning out his days for the drunkenness of a son, who is bringing down his white hairs with sorrow to the grave. I would show you a young wife upon her knees, pleading "with Almighty God, with trembling lips and broken heart, for the conversion of an intemperate husband. Only two years ago that young man began, in all the brightness of his youth, the married state; and now he is, as one has said, "a slave to a demon, whom he worships instead of his God, whom he loves instead of his wife and children, and who, in return will give him nights of misery and days of despair, and leave him at last to die on the gibbet or in the madhouse." Or I would take you to where, a few months back, there lived, and there page 14 worked, and there prayed, a Christian wife and mother; and I would ask you to bear with me while I tell you of her story, which is known now to the angels of heaven. The hard hand of want sometimes dulled the fire on her hearth, for the father of the family was away beyond the seas; but the anxious struggle of her daily life was sweetened for her by the master-secret of all spirituality. She loved her God, and she had learned to say, "Not my will, but Thine, be done." She hoped on in patience for her husband's return, when his earnings would wipe off the debts which she had incurred for food and clothing, and the sad times of pinching would have passed away from her. Brighter and brighter I saw the weary face become as the time approached for his return, and at last the flag proclaimed the welcome news of the safe arrival of the vessel in which he served; but upon the following day a hasty summons took me to the house, and there I saw the wife and mother, her reason fled, her eye rolling in frenzy—a hopeless maniac. The human brute who was her husband had returned upon the previous clay, and had staggered drunk and penniless into his home. Such a termination to weary months of watching extinguished in a moment the feeble light of that overtasked brain. They bore her to the County Lunatic Asylum, and in three days she had passed away to that home "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
Oh! my brothers in Christ—you whose hearts can be made to boil within you with indignation at the cruelties of Batak—I ask you, was not that gentle mother as surely murdered as if the sword of a Circassian had been drawn across her throat? Will not Almighty God require her blood at the hands of those who caused her death? In despair I ask, what has become of the spirit of chivalry and of eager zeal which prompted the Holy wars of old, when the men of page 15 England can calmly sit down under such bitter wrongs as these, which are happening every day around them? I can only say, for myself, that as I stood in that drink-cursed home, with those little motherless children weeping around me, I raised my hand and my heart to God, and I pledged myself that, so long as I have my reason and my speech, I will never sheathe my sword; but I will fight in every way in my power against this wife-murdering, hell-filling, nation-destroying sin.
And now, brethren, I feel that I have "sounded my alarm." I would rather leave my message with you. It is not for me to suggest the remedy, so much as to simply tell you of the wrong. If you would share in the salvation of Christ, I would warn you, before the altar of God, that you must share in His battle with the sin around you. And so I would pray you, in the name of God, to "take alarm" at the sin of England—to awake, and to shake off the drowsiness of conscience that has hitherto kept you aloof from the great Temperance reformation. I would ask you, from this very night, to determine to have your share—little though it may be—in the work that is going on; to do something, to give something, to speak, to protest, to vote, to abstain, to do anything you like, so long only as you work for Christ in this matter.
And, lastly, suffer me to ask you—Why do you not, in this vast metropolis, enforce the existing laws regulating this traffic? Why do you not diminish the facilities for drink that are around the working classes this very night? Why do you not labour for the closing of public-houses on the Lord's Day ? Why do you not promote counter-attractions to the public-house 1 Brethren, think on these things. And I would ask you also to support most liberally with your alms all temperance societies, whatever their name. Especially am page 16 I bound to plead for the great national society which bears the name of the National Church, and of which Her Majesty is the patron. I wish that I could elicit from every soul in this cathedral to-night a solemn promise to Almighty. God that he or she would send that society a subscription before this year is out. And once more let me remind you that this is God's call, and not mine. It is Almighty God who is calling thee, and who is bidding thee stir up thy nation to a sense of its peril. He is bidding thee pour out before the world such a flood of light—religious, physiological, and political—upon this question, that error and prejudice and interest may flee away before it; and remember that the Lord, by dying for you, has made you, every one, trumpeters of His army. He has laid it upon the conscience of all of you to summon His hosts into the field; and so, in this cathedral, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I bid every single one of you go forth into the society in which you severally move, and
"Sound An Alarm."