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The Pulpit, The Press and The Government
By J. B. Hawthorne (1837-1910)

(Delivered before the Georgia Legislature)

“Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).

      In these words, addressed to a young minister, Paul asserts a moral obligation which is binding upon the whole world. “Let no man despise thee.” By that he means that the true minister of Jesus Christ should be respected and supported in his sacred vocation.

      The true ministry is sent of God. In that great intercessory prayer with which our Lord closed His ministry, He said: “As Thou hast sent Me . . . so have I also sent them into the representative of his Divine Master. For his support and protection the Master has said, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me.” I do not mean that the obligation is upon you to respect every man who claims to be a minister of Jesus Christ. It is your privilege to discriminate between the true and the false, the worthy and the unworthy. Since the days of Judas Iscariot, there have been in the Christian ministry wolves in sheep’s clothing - sanctimonious mountebanks, with a devil’s purpose, but with an angel’s face. Such it is a virtue to despise.

      There are men who have gone into the ministry for a mere livelihood. They have no deep conviction of duty. They have no profound sense of responsibility. They have no burdens. They make no sacrifices. They are simply making a convenience of God’s altars.

I do not say that the obligation is upon you to respect and honor such men as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. I believe it to be your duty to repudiate their claims, and to rebuke their sordid and irreverent spirit. But God has a ministry. Christ has His accredited ambassadors in the world. They are in the pulpits of every denomination of true Christians. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” They are men whose lives adorn the doctrines they profess. They carry their credentials in their Christ-loving hearts, and exemplify them in their deeds of devotion to God and humanity. These are God’s anointed; and let no man despise them.

Every true minister is a watchman, “a Heaven-appointed sentinel.” The poet pencils his duty and his danger when he represents God as appearing to him and saying:

“What of the night, what of the night,
what of the night?
The myriad foe in close array,
come on to try their might,
A night assault,
and if thy trump mistake a single sound,
I’ll have upon these battlements the
watchman on his round.”

He who stands in such a place and faithfully performs the difficult duties of his sacred office has a right to the world’s respect and homage. He who despises him despises the Master, but he who loves and honors him puts the diadem on the brow of Christ.

The function of the Christian minister is to preach the “Word.” To do that, his preaching must compass and cover a vast field. The “Word” includes not only the revelations of God’s love and mercy toward Sinners - not only the plan of Redemption - but God’s laws for the regulation of human conduct - the everlasting distinctions which He makes between right and wrong. If he preaches “the Word,” he must preach morality, because that constitutes a very large and essential element of the Word.

In Nehemiah’s time the minister read the law in the hearing of the audience and gave the sense distinctly. The law was read and expounded to keep the consciences of the people alive, and that they might be made familiar with God’s standard of rectitude. “Preach the Word.” Well, “the Word” says: “Them that sin rebuke before all.” “The Word” says: “Comfort My people, but show Jerusalem her abominations.” “The Word” says: “Put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.” “The Word” that came out of Christ’s own mouth says: “Thou shalt not lie,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” “The Word” says that, no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God. “The Word” says: “Woe unto him that putteth the bottle to his neighbor’s mouth.” Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is a part of “the Word,” and the whole of that sermon is devoted to morality.

If you will look through the writings of the Apostles, you will find that about one-fifth of them is exposition of the plan of salvation, and the rest instruction as to the manner in which men should live.

My brethren, I would not hastily and harshly judge any man on God’s footstool. I do not believe that I am disloyal to the law of love in calling your attention to the character of the men who oppose the preaching of morality from the pulpit.

There are a few so-called ministers who would make you believe that preaching against dishonesty, or drunkenness, or licentiousness, or lying, or ballot-box stuffing, is a desecration of the pulpit. As I have had to meet the opposition of such men - as I have been loaded with their anathemas - I have looked into their lives, to see if they were practically better than the men whom they so bitterly denounce. I am happy to say that I have discovered the secret of their hostility to the discussion of Christian morals in the pulpit. It is due to a disgraceful immorality in their own conduct. I have gone to the bottom of a number of cases. In one, I found an incurable habit of lying. In another, secret drinking and drunkenness. In another, a refusal to pay honest debts. In still another, a crime too revolting to be even mentioned in this presence.

But, out of the pulpit, who are the people that reprobate ministers for preaching against the sins of the day? They are immoral church-members, who cannot listen to such preaching without feeling the pang of an evil conscience. They are men who are engaged in some business that fosters and spreads immorality. They are drunkards, and gamblers, and libertines, and swindlers, and political demagogues, who know that their security depends upon keeping the public conscience quiet concerning the things of which they are guilty. Now, what consideration should we give to opposition which comes from such sources? None whatever. The man who can be silenced, or frightened from the path of duty by the howlings of such malcontents is unfit to stand between the living and the dead as a teacher and exemplar of God’s truth

If it be true that immorality, vice and crime imperial social order and the existence of free government, then every observant and thoughtful man of this land feels that we have cause for serious apprehension. There are some, I know, who are not troubled. To them all things wear the tint of the rose-light. They laugh at the apprehensions of their neighbors as nothing more than symptoms of dyspepsia, or incipient hypochondria. When the age - this glorious age - is mentioned, they go off in a ecstasy. Such is their volubility of praise, it is only when they are out of breath that you can edge in a word. They tell us that “the age is golden, perfectly auriferous in all its development, transcending all others in immediate advantage and in auguries of future good.” We are pointed to the “kindling love of freedom, to the quickened onset of inquiry, to the stream of legislation, broadening as it flows, to the increase of hereditary mind, and to the setting further and further back of the old landmarks of improvement.”

I would not undervalue these and other signs of encouragement. And yet, I see, as distinctly as I see the sun in the heavens, things which ought to alarm us. Much of our boasted liberty is nothing but the liberty of lust; much of our intellectual eminence is folly; much of our liberality is simply indifferentism. Crime does not diminish. The records of our offices of police and courts of justice are perfectly appalling. Intemperance, like a mighty gulf-stream, is sweeping away its tens of thousands. Within the borders of our country seventy thousand annually sink to the darkness and horror of the drunkard’s doom. Every year the despotism of monopoly increases. Every year the power of organized knavery over elections, and courts, and legislatures, increases. Socialists and anarchists are multiplying at a fearful rate.

Verily, in this state of things there is cause of alarm. And if we do not bestir ourselves and uproot these evils, the day is not distant when yonder sun will look down upon our government and country in ruins. What is the duty of the pulpit in the face of these evils? Silence? Read this Book, and answer. Read what God says about the duties of His ministers, and answer. “If thou give them not warning, their blood will I require at thy hands.” Read the history of the pulpit, from the days of the ancient prophets, and answer. Consult your own consciences, and answer. Get upon your knees - look God in the face, and answer. Should the living ministry be silent, or should it lift up its voice against the rapidly growing abominations which threaten the peace and sanctity of every American home, and all that is best and greatest in American civilization?

There is, and there can be, but one honest opinion upon this subject, and that is, that it is the solemn and imperative duty of God’s ministers to declare God’s displeasure against the sins and vices of this land, and to educate our people to a higher standard of morals. This is what the pulpit of this country is trying to do. In its toils and struggles to accomplish this end, it deserves, and should receive, the sympathy and practical support of every lover of truth and virtue, and home and country. To despise and oppose it, is unpatriotic and criminal.

Permit me to occupy a few moments in giving special emphasis to the duty of the Press and the Civil Government to co-operate with the Pulpit in the great work of eradicating vice, and of lifting the country to a higher plain of virtue. You will support me in saying that, generally, the most formidable opposition to the Pulpit comes from the secular press and the civil government. Some of our secular newspapers, I am proud to say, are not chargeable with this sin and folly. They are as bold and uncompromising in their hostility to the supporters of immorality and vice as the Pulpit. Every effort on the part of iniquitous rings and monopolies to subsidize them has failed. To every insidious representative of the unrighteous mammon, they have said, “Thy money perish with thee.” To every seducing vender of public offices, they have indignantly replied, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

I have no words to express the pride and satisfaction which I feel in being able to say, that of such political newspapers there are more within the precincts of this dear old State, in proportion to her population, than can be found in any other spot of this great globe.

There are some papers which maintain a neutral position in reference to moral questions. They will publish a strong sermon, or a well-written communication in support of moral reform, but their columns are also open to every denunciation of the Pulpit or defense of popular vice. The editors of such papers doubtless have convictions upon the moral questions agitating the country, but they are buried in the impenetrable solitude of their own breasts.

There are other newspapers which are habitually on all sides of every such question. They have one editor to write up prohibition and another to write it down; one to describe the perils, and another the pleasures of the wine cup; one to execrate the liquor-license system and another to defend it; one to deprecate the obscene exhibitions upon our theatrical boards, and another to depict them in the most sensuous style for the delectation of the vulgar and vicious; one to write lamentations on Wall-street gambling, and another to glorify the feats of Wall-street gamblers; one to laud the moral heroism of certain preachers, and another to stigmatize them as cranks and fanatics; one to extol the work of temperance reformation, and another to denounce it as a revival of Puritanism, and an effort to re-enact the old sumptuary laws. There is still another class, that are openly, uncompromisingly, defiantly, and all the time, on the side of evil-doers. They despise the Pulpit, and all of its fulminations against the corruptions of the age, and they make no effort to conceal it.

Now, my friends, we all know the power of the Press. It does more to create and control public sentiment, and public policy, than any agency in existence. A man may be as pure as an archangel, and come before the public with a cause as high and holy as Heaven itself, but if the political newspapers combine against him, they can load him and his cause with infamy, and drive him into starless hopeless oblivion.

Let the secular press of this country stand out boldly and zealously on the side of reform; let it unite with the Pulpit in reprobating fraud, corruption and uncleanness, and in a few years there will be such a moral cleansing of society as man nor angel ever saw.

In spite of the tremendous opposition from the Press, the Pulpit has accomplished much toward the overthrow of some of the most hideous forms of immorality. It has certainly wrought wonders in this section of our country. The organs of the rum-despotism have denounced us as disturbers of our country’s peace. They have charged us with inflicting injury upon her material interests. But why will they not tell the people how much we have done toward the removal of their greatest curse?

In a village upon our western frontier, a man rushed into a crowd gathered upon the common, and said: “Early this morning a bear came into Mr. Perkin’s yard and began to claw and bite his children, and Mr. Perkins shot him, but the wad from the gun set the barn on fire, and his corn and hay, and four cow and two horses have been destroyed.” “That is very bad,” replied an impatient auditor, “but did Perkins kill the bear?” They say that we have kindled a conflagration that has done mischief to the business interests of the State. If that be true, it is to be regretted. But have we killed the bear? Have we saved our children from the clutches of a devouring monster? The soul of the humblest child of Georgia outweighs the whole of Georgia’s gold!

I am sure that no right-minded person will deny that the civil government ought to respect and befriend the Pulpit. There is not an intelligent office-holder in the land who does not know, that without the support which it receives from the Pulpit, our civil government could not stand even for one year. There is not one who does not know that the Christian ministry is doing a thousand times more to restrain lawlessness and to educate the masses for the responsibilities of citizenship than all the police of the country.

We do not ask and we would not have the support of the government in establishing a religious creed or any form of religious worship, but we do ask its countenance and co-operation in our efforts to educate the people in those great moral principles written upon the very constitution of man, and recognized by men of all creeds and also by men of no creed. It is not the function of government to establish religion; it can rightfully do no more than protect religion. But it is both the right and the duty of government to uphold morality. It is the legitimate function of government not only to punish vice, but to remove, as far as possible, the causes of it.

I know that I risk nothing in saying, that, as a rule, the national, state and municipal governments of this country have done but little in aiding the Pulpit in developing the people in the love of moral integrity. The private conduct of the majority of men, in any department of the government, is equivalent to a perpetual declaration of war against the Pulpit and against everything which men are accustomed to recognize as virtue.

Here, my countrymen, is a specimen of your national legislature: In the Atlanta Constitution of a recent date there is a communication from Washington, written by a man whose heart is as brave and whose character is as noble as his face is handsome. In that communication he tells the eighty thousand readers of his paper that there is a gambling club in that city composed of four senators, sixty-one representatives and twenty-two ex-congressmen, and that the four senators received $3,700 for defeating the bill against pool-selling. What must be the moral influence of a government in which such men are conspicuous factors?

But it is mainly by their official acts that executive officers and members of legislative bodies antagonize the work of moral reform. Whence comes our crime? I repeat the question, whence comes our crime? Our bureaux of statistics, the records of our police justices and the judges of our supreme courts tell us, that nine - tenths of the crimes in this country are traceable to the traffic in intoxicating drinks. In the name of reason, virtue, humanity, and God, I ask, is it not the duty of government to uproot and destroy this evil? Is it not as much the function of government to prevent crime as it is to punish crime? But our government, so far from exercising its right to suppress this curse, makes itself the protector and supporter of the men who are engaged in the crime-making business. The government not only gives to them its permission to make crime and criminals, but while they are doing it, throws its great protecting arms about them, and says: “These men have vested rights, and you must not disturb them.”

God’s Word says, that rulers are a terror to evil-doers; but what sort of rulers? Certainly not those who legalize the worst forms of evil-doing and shield from justice the vilest element of evil-doers. Under God’s government, the Legislature of Georgia has no more right to authorize a man to keep a doggery, than it has to authorize him to commit a felony. “Oh, but the doggery is an institution - it is an institution of our fathers, and therefore must be protected.” My countrymen, the biggest thing, the grandest thing, the most sacred thing, under yonder blue vault of Heaven, is man - man made in the image of his God. Institutions are made for men, and not men for institutions. The first and highest function of government is to protect and ennoble and glorify man. With a conviction that stirs very drop of the blood in my veins, I assert, that any law-maker who would sacrifice a man for a doggery is a traitor to his race

A nation is supposed to grow - to grow, not in territory, population and material wealth only, but in wisdom and virtue. Goethe, the great German poet, says, that if you plant an oak in a flower vase, either the oak must wither or the vase crack. Some men are for saving the vase, but wisdom says, truth says, virtue says, God says: “Save the oak, and let the vase go.” This country must get out from some of its environments, or it must wither and perish. Save the country; open the way for progress in virtue and manhood, even if it requires the sacrifice of a thousand institutions hoary with age. Save your homes, save your children, save your neighbors - save man, and let the vile doggery, freighted with the execrations of every virtuous being in God’s great universe, sink back into the black, bottomless hell from which it sprang.

Georgia has stepped into the arena of the world’s great amphitheatre, and said, “We will show you a State that has the manhood to put down the doggery power.” The contest is going on. The chief actors, at this hour, in this great drama, are the members of the State Legislature. What will they do? Will they “quit themselves like men?” Will they stand against the powers of darkness? Will they down the monster? Will they blot this era of oppression out and lead a blessed freedom in? Humanity, with all its fears, and all its hopes of future years, looks on to see what will be the issue of the struggle.

“Blest, thrice blest, the Roman,
who saw Rome’s brightest day,
Who saw that long victorious pomp wind
down the sacred way,
And through the bellowing Forum,
and round the suppliant’s grove,
Up to the everlasting gates
of Capitolian Jove.”

But a thousand times blest the son of Georgia who lives to see her brightest day - the day when her people, old and young, learned and unlearned, rich and poor, native and foreign, Christian and Jew, white and black, shall move up in one glad, harmonious, triumphant procession, to take their places under the sheltering arches of a temple of government, whose foundation shall be virtue and whose topmost stone shall be freedom.

[From The Pulpit Treasury, Vol. IV, No. 12, April 1887, pp. 719-726; via Christopher Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, February, 2003.