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Culture and Christianity: Their Relation and Necessity

By Frank G. Allen


      [An Address Delivered Before Eminence College, June 8, 1877.]

      There are periods in our history which form the oases in the desert of life. In one of these our spirits are to-day refreshed. Its dark shade and cooling fountain strengthen us for the onward pilgrimage. From its green sward we pluck bright flowers, whose fragrance will linger with us till the end of life's journey. From these let us to-day weave fresh garlands, which shall ever exhale the sweetness of these associations.

      This is ever a proud day for Eminence College. Annually on these festive occasions do the hearts of the many thousands who have gone out from these classic halls turn to them again with longing. Memory, unfettered by space, walks again amid these lovely bowers and responds unconsciously to the greetings of other days. Though separated far, and mingling in the busy scenes of life, how their souls revel in these delights! These college associations are the golden links which bind many hearts in an unbroken chain. The chords so exquisitely touched in our hearts to-day will vibrate for an age. Ere these sweet strains die away on the distant air they will be caught up by responsive hearts and reechoed round the earth. These are times in our college life that must ever be linked with the future. Memory will ever delight to lift the heavy curtain of material life, and behold again these visions of beauty, and paint in fancy these rose tints of youth. Then let this day be one whose brightness shall shed a ray of celestial light along the path of life. Let our spirits bathe in the fountain of living waters, while the chords of our hearts are swept with entrancing melodies.

      "Then th' inexpressive strain
      Diffuses its enchantment. Fancy dreams
      Of sacred fountains and Elysian groves,
      And vales of bliss; the intellectual power
      Bends from his awful throne a wandering ear,
      And smiles."

      As a theme worthy of your consideration to-day, I have selected

      "Culture and Christianity: Their Relation and Necessity."

      The Greek word for man, [Greek: anthropos], signifies etymologically to look upward. Man is the only terrestrial being capable of looking inward and upward. In this there lies between him and the animal creation an impassable gulf. Man alone can look into his inner nature, and thereby make his very failures the stepping-stones to a higher life. God designed that man's progress should be upward; hence his high destiny is attained, not by creation, but by development. The ladder at whose foot he begins his immortal career rests upon the eternal throne. This is not a development into man, but a development of man. The theory of development into man is of the flesh; but the development of man is of the spirit. Since man is destined for eternity, it is not befitting that he should attain perfection in time. Hence he does not develop as the beast of the field, or the fowl of the air. They soon learn all that they ever know. They soon enjoy all they are capable of enjoying. They soon attain to the perfection of their being, and fulfill the end of their creation. The swallow builds her nest and the beaver his dam precisely as they did in the days before the flood. Nor can it ever be otherwise. But it is not so with man. This life is too short and this world too small for his development. He but begins to live in this world. This life is simply a state of probation. Our faculties but begin to unfold on the things of time when we are called hence. This unfolding of our faculties, this development of our inner self, is the result of culture--a culture not of the flesh, but of the spirit; not of the outer, but of the inner man.

      Culture and Christianity, properly considered, are inseparable. He who relies on culture apart from Christianity misconceives the end of his being. He appreciates not his high destiny. Animals have minds susceptible of a high degree of cultivation, but not of a culture which reaches beyond time. Their culture is wholly a thing of this life; but not more so than is the culture of men unsanctified by the religion of Christ. A culture that terminates with death is in harmony with the nature of a horse, but contrary to the nature of a man. What is culture? This is a question on whose solution man's eternal destiny is largely suspended. Our age prides itself on being an age of culture; but do we know in what true culture really consists? As a whole, I think not. A smattering of sentimental literature, a superficial refinement of manners, a few borrowed phrases and appropriated customs of "society," the rendering of a few pieces by rote, and fashionable dress, constitute with, alas! too many the standard of culture. How unworthy of their race are those who entertain the thought! All this may be but the gilding of barbarism; beneath this external glitter there may be a heart and character steeped in moral rudeness and degradation.

      True culture consists not in the cultivation of outward accomplishments. It consists not in intellectual acquirements. It consists in the development of the triune man--body, soul and spirit--in their divine harmony. Without a cultivation of the spirit in harmony with its immortal destiny, all that this world calls culture is but the gilded tinsel that bedecks the putrefaction of death. The truly cultured man is developed in harmony with the laws of his being. This being is compound, having a fleshly and a spiritual side. Hence, to cultivate one to the neglect of the other is to disproportion him whom God created in His own image. As we exist first in time and next in eternity, that culture which loses sight of either state misconceives the full mission of man. Man's conception of his present mission and ultimate destiny determines his standard of culture. He must have an ideal, and if that ideal be low, his life will be correspondingly low. Nothing but Christianity can furnish man an ideal worthy of himself; and nothing but Christian culture can develop him in the direction of that ideal.

      Classical antiquity never conceived a destiny worthy of man. It never contemplated him in that relation of Christ-likeness to his God, which the Bible reveals. Even Aristotle, the most cultivated of all heathen philosophers, thought that only a part of mankind possessed a rational soul. With such a conception man is incapable of the highest culture. It is degrading to his dignity. All culture based on such a hypothesis must be a culture of the flesh, and not of the spirit. It is the culture of materialism, not of Christianity. Between modern materialism and the cultivated heathenism of the ancient Greeks the difference is not worth the naming. "To assume the existence of a soul," says Vogt, "which uses the brain as an instrument with which to work as it pleases, is utter nonsense. Physiology distinctly and categorically pronounces against any individual immortality, and against all ideas which are connected with a figment of a separate existence of the soul." "Man," says Moleschott, "is produced from wind and ashes. The action of vegetable life called him into existence.... Thought consists in the motion of matter, it is a translocation of the cerebral substance; without phosphorus there can be no thought; and consciousness itself is nothing but an attribute of matter." This deification of the flesh, this "gospel of dirt," makes man consist simply of what he eats. The missionaries of this heathen gospel have no need to address the reason of men; only feed them on the right kind of food and their regeneration is accomplished! Materialism is a religion of the flesh, a deification of matter; its laver of regeneration is the chemist's retort; its new birth, phosphorus! Give the brain plenty of phosphorus by high living, and you develop the soul of materialism! Yet the heralds of this soulless gospel talk flippantly about culture!

      Man's fall was due to an attempt to acquire knowledge at the expense of heart culture. Here, amid the bowers of "paradise lost" is found the root of all false culture, and from that root the world has ever been filled with a noxious growth. True culture consists in a correction of the process which

      "Brought death into the world,
      And all our woe."

      Man in his spiritual nature must be educated back to the divine image from which he fell. No culture comprehending less than this has ever proved a permanent blessing to the race. The highest culture hitherto attained apart from Christianity was incapable of saving its devotees from ruin. Greece and Rome were never more cultured, in a popular sense, than when they began to go down in death. Materialistic culture was their winding-sheet, and "A Religion of the Flesh" should be their epitaph. As Christlieb has truly said: "Wherever civilization is not made to rest on the basis of moral and religious truth it can not attain to any permanent existence, and is incapable of preserving the nations possessed of it from spiritual starvation, to say nothing of political death."

      It is idle to boast of Liberty when the foundations of her temples are not laid in divine truth. Of this, Greece and Rome have furnished the world examples. In Greece freedom had a field peculiarly her own; she breathed her inspiration into the people, and her spirit into their literature; she lived in the deeds of their youth, and was sung by the muse of their bards. This spirit was diffused in Rome. Plato, Aristotle and Homer were transplanted to the Rhine, the Seine, and the Thames. Their land was full of liberty and culture, but not the liberty nor the culture of the soul. When we learn from Tacitus that "in the first century, in a time of famine, all the teachers of youth were banished from the city, and six thousand dancers were retained," we have an example of that culture which made Rome a sink of iniquity. It is not impossible that the fatal mistake of Greece and Rome should be repeated in our own country. We are venturing to some extent on the slippery places from which they fell. The evil star of their national ruin is that on which the eyes of many of our political leaders are fixed. The godless spirit that animated the Roman senate is being nursed into new life in American politics, and this nursing is not simply in the halls of legislation, but in the homes of the people. Here lies the trouble. If the American republic ever goes down in ruin, the power that hurls it from its high position will be enthroned in the family circle.

      We complain that those in authority have not the fear of God before their eyes. We lift our hands in holy horror at the public corruption which brings our nation into dishonor before the world. But who is to blame? One political party is ever ready to ascribe all the corruption of the country to its political rival. But this godless disregard of national honor and national interest is confined to no party. Neither is it confined to party leaders; but it controls the people on whom the leaders rely for support. Here is the seat of the disease which is gnawing at the vitals of the republic. The man who now refuses to cater to the depraved tastes of the masses, can not, as a rule, be promoted to office. How many men can sit in the halls of legislation, or even on our benches of justice, who persistently refuse to influence men's votes by money, or inflame their passions and sway their judgment with strong drink? When a man of a high sense of moral honor seeks promotion by the suffrage of his fellow-citizens, he soon learns that he must come down from his "stilted dignity" or be defeated. In the excitement of the canvass he yields to base motives to prevent defeat. He compromises his high sense of honor, deadens his conscience, and sells out his manhood to secure an honorable (?) position. We should not expect men to manifest a high sense of honor in public places as long as we require them to compromise their honor in order to secure such places. The thing is both unreasonable and unjust. As well expect sweet water to flow from a fountain which we have made bitter!

      Party spirit is hostile to moral purity. As one becomes filled with the spirit of party, to that extent does he surrender the freedom of a man. He can neither think nor speak impartially. He stifles the convictions of conscience and shouts the shibboleth of party. With him the triumph of party is infinitely dearer than the maintenance of principle. Hence the conflict becomes a struggle, not for principle, but for victory. The people are distracted and the nation brought to the verge of ruin over the most trivial matters. The Eastern empire was once shaken to its foundation by parties which differed only about the merits of charioteers at the amphitheater.

      This ruinous party spirit is fostered by ignorance. The masses who are controlled at the ballot-box by the basest influences, because they will not be controlled by any other; and who in turn control the ballots of our country, are, as a rule, the uncultured part of society. The better class of citizens are not approached with the influences which control the ignorant. Therefore, the remedy is in the correct education of the masses. The emphasis is correctly made; for any kind of education will not accomplish this end. Only as people are truly cultured do they cease to be tools of politicians. Then their intelligence, not their passions, must be addressed. When the masses are thus cultured they will refine instead of demoralize our public men.

      As a remedy, then, for the demoralization of all classes we need a better system of education. We must have a free education if we would have a free people. Our children must be educated in just principles, if we would perpetuate a just government. To make this remedy effectual, when the means of education are provided for the ignorant, they should be required to appropriate them, or forfeit their right of suffrage. No man should have a voice in determining the destiny of our nation, who rejects the means of that culture which alone can qualify him to act intelligently. A man who has not spirit enough to avail himself of the benefits of an elementary education, when placed within his reach, is not worthy of being a citizen of a free government.

      Not only must the ballot-box be elevated by culture, if this government would number its centennials, but it must be purified by Christianity. We need to erect a high standard of moral qualification for positions of trust and honor. Those in authority will ever be about what the people require of them. When ungodliness and moral corruption are at a discount among the people, and party spirit can not atone for the darkest crimes, then may we expect more purity in high places; not before. This standard must be erected at the ballot-box or our liberties will find an untimely grave.

      This government was established on a false idea--the idea that man is capable of self-government. God never intended that man should govern himself. Consequently, in the strictest sense of the word, he is incapable, both individually and collectively, of self-government. Since, by his own wisdom, man is incapable of governing himself he is likewise incapable of governing others. The men and the nations, in the ages of the past, that attempted this, failed of the high destiny for which God gave them being. The ultimate prosperity of men and nations depends on the government of God. Only He who created man fully understands his ultimate destiny and the laws of his being to attain to that end. Therefore, only when man is thus governed is his life a success. All sacred history shows that God rules in the governments of men; and only when this fact is practically acknowledged may nations expect permanent prosperity. That nation whose laws are framed and executed regardless of the law of God will eventually fall under the divine chastisement. No more can the statesmanship of this world, unsanctified by divine wisdom, save a nation from the wrath of God, than the wisdom of man can save a soul from eternal death, regardless of Him, "who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." For the disregard of God's will, nations are punished here, because as nations they do not exist hereafter. On this the Lord has clearly spoken: "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it: If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them." Thus it is that nations are in the hands of God as clay in the hands of the potter. Only, therefore, when they purge themselves from ungodly legislation, will they become "vessels unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use."

      The voice of God, then, must be heard and heeded in our nation, and if the people rule, and the nation prosper, the voice of God must become the voice of the people. In this sense, and this only, are any people capable of self-government. To this end we need more extended culture, and that of a higher order. Our politics must be purified by our religion, and our religion must be a religion of the spirit, not of the flesh. We need more religion in our politics, and less politics in our religion. The history of other nations fully confirms the language of Goethe: "All epochs," says he, "in which faith prevailed have been the most heart-stirring and fruitful, both as regards contemporaries and posterity; whereas, on the other hand, all epochs in which unbelief obtains its miserable triumphs, even when they boast of some apparent brilliancy, are not less surely doomed to speedy oblivion." Liberty is the twin sister of Faith. In the language of Seneca: "To obey God is freedom. A nation that desires to be free must believe, and a nation that will not believe must be in servitude; only despotism can dispense with faith, but not liberty."

      History clearly proves that national prosperity depends on an appreciation of the intimate relation existing between culture and Christianity. Of this relation Christlieb truly speaks: "No one, indeed," says he, "will wish to deny that in our modern culture there is much that is false, egotistic, and selfish; much that is misleading and exaggerated, and consequently opposed to true culture. Against these untrue elements of culture, Christianity will and must always take the field; it must not oppose progress, although it is at all times bound to show itself hostile to the sins of progress, just as from its very commencement it has always testified and striven against such sins. Between Christless culture and Christianity a bridge of accommodation can no more be built than between light and darkness, and woe to him who undertakes this! But whatever in our modern culture is thoroughly Christless, and therefore Godless, is unworthy of the name and can, therefore, claim from us no further consideration; it is mere naked rudeness and selfishness, ill-disguised by the gaudy rays of outward decency; a mere cherishing of the sensual nature which, left to itself, would soon degenerate into monstrous barbarism, of which we already see many indications."

      Intellectual, at the expense of moral, culture is one of the curses of this age. By such culture man acquires power without the principles which alone can make that power a blessing. Intellect is deified; but intellect unsubdued by Christianity is a remorseless god. True culture would lift man above this low conception of his own nature. It would give him a more comprehensive view of himself; of the infinite development of which he is susceptible; of the rulings of an all-wise Providence, whose loving care

      "From seeming evil still educing good,
      And better thence again, and better still,
      In infinite progression."

      True culture consists not in an accumulation of facts or ideas, but in developing a force of thought that is ever a ready and willing servant. To educate is to lead out and develop the faculties, not to break them down with the endless rubbish of other minds. The collection of facts amounts to but little unless with those facts we build towers from which to take higher and wider views of truth. Thus it is that culture demands them as a means, not as an end. To build up the mental and moral faculties, so as to comprehend and appreciate the great principles which control the life that now is, and that which is to come, is the highest culture in our probationary state. This can be accomplished only by an education in which the Bible and the authority of Christ are made paramount. On this, as we have seen, our free institutions and the perpetuity of religious liberty depend. This is the secret of Roman Catholic opposition to the Bible in our public schools. And it is not simply the Bible in the public schools that Rome opposes; she is opposed to the existence of the schools themselves; to the system of free education. No people understand better than the Catholics the power of religious teaching in connection with education. Hence they are the foe to all religion in connection with education that is not Catholic. Rome is the friend of education and religion when that education is priestly and that religion Romish; otherwise she is the enemy of both. Hence those who support Catholic schools foster the deadliest foe of our religious liberties. There will ever be, therefore, an irrepressible conflict between Roman Catholicism and Christian culture. Let him who doubts this study impartially the history of Catholic countries. We ask no more.

      The idea is fast passing away, and it can not pass too rapidly, that the mass of the people need no other culture than that which fits them for their various vocations. The world is beginning to learn that culture is due to our nature, not to our calling. It is not the calling nor the place of residence that makes the man. It is what a man is, not what he does, that makes him great. True greatness is in the man, not in circumstances. True greatness and worldly fame are two widely different things. The greatest men of earth may be but little known. As force of thought measures intellectual, so force of principle measures moral, greatness. There is more true greatness in the huts of poverty than in the palaces of kings, only it is undeveloped. Here, therefore, is where we need true Christian culture. I can not better express my appreciation of obscure greatness, which culture should develop, than by repeating the words of Dr. Channing: "The greatest man," says he, "is he who chooses the right with invincible resolution, who resists the sorest temptation from within and without, who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully, who is calmest in storms and most fearless under menace and frowns, whose reliance on truth, on virtue, on God, is most unfaltering; and is this a greatness which is apt to make a show, or which is most likely to abound in conspicuous stations? The solemn conflicts of reason with passion; the victories of moral and religious principles over urgent and almost irresistible solicitations to self-indulgence; the hardest sacrifices of duty, those of deep-seated affection and of the heart's fondest hopes; the consolations, hopes, joys, and peace, of disappointed, persecuted, scorned, deserted virtue; these are of course unseen, so that the true greatness of human life is almost wholly out of sight. Perhaps in our presence the most heroic deed on earth is done in some silent spirit, the loftiest purpose cherished, the most generous sacrifices made, and we do not suspect it. I believe this greatness to be most common among the multitude, whose names are never heard." Most beautifully has the poet expressed the same fine thought:

      "Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
      The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
      Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
      And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

      These pure gems need to be discovered and polished, and these sweet flowers cultivated and utilized by Christian culture. It is idle to talk of developing these hidden resources of intellectual and moral wealth but by true culture, and this can never exist apart from Christianity. Christianity is the spiritual power that vitalizes the culture of our age. So evident is this that even a Fichte was compelled to confess that, "We and our whole age are rooted in the soil of Christianity, and have sprung from it; it has exercised its influence in the most manifold ways on the whole of our culture, and we should be absolutely nothing of all that we are, if this mighty principle had not preceded us." Culture and Christianity can not now be divorced. Those who would array culture against Christianity are themselves under the influence of that which they oppose. The very imagined imperfections of Christianity must be discovered by the light of Christianity, "just as he who seeks to discover spots in the sun, must for this purpose borrow the light of the sun itself." Culture and Christianity are so interwoven that we may never expect either, separate from the other, as a blessing to the world. The very fact that the Protestant nations of the earth, where God is honored by a free Bible, are the chief exponents of true culture, attests this connection. So vital is this relation that, "United they stand; divided they fall."

      Another important end to be attained in the culture of the masses is independence of thought. We need to cast off the yoke of human opinion and cultivate the individual judgment. We are too much the slaves of fashion. We are disposed to dress our minds as well as our bodies, after the fashion of the times. This destroys originality and independence of thought, and renders our lives tame and insipid. We need connection with other minds to excite our own, not to enslave them. We want the thoughts of others that we may think; and without correct modes of thinking, all efforts at education and culture are failures.

      But it may be argued, the masses are denied the privilege of association with the cultivated. This is not true. They may deprive themselves, but they are not denied. This is peculiarly an age of printing. The best of literature may now find its way into the most humble homes. There is not a roof in the land under which the prophets and apostles of God will not enter with the glad message containing the promise of the life that is and that which is to come; not one under which the poets will not come to sing to us of that far-off land; not one too holy for the habitation of the great minds of earth which inspire us

      "With thoughts that breathe,
      And words that burn."

      With these for our companions, we may have the best society that this world affords, and, by such association, fit ourselves for the companionship of the cultivated.

      Is it argued that the poor have not time for self-culture? This is one of the greatest mistakes of life. It is not time that we want; it is inclination. Generally, those who have most time profit by it least. An earnest purpose will either find time or make time. Nor is it necessary that much time should be taken. The spare moments, the mere fragments of time, often worse than wasted, will, if carefully improved, make both mind and heart a store-house of the most precious treasure. It is said that Spurgeon read the whole of Macaulay's History of England between the courses at dinner. I would not advise that these golden opportunities for social culture be devoted to reading; but the circumstance shows how much may be accomplished by gathering up the crumbs which fall from the table of time. When Martin Luther was asked how, amid all his other labors, he found time to translate the Holy Scriptures, he replied, "One verse a day." A small amount of daily reading, of the right kind, will furnish food for thought; and it is thought, after all, that enriches the soul.

      A proper improvement of the most slender opportunities for self-culture creates new capacities for enjoyment, and saves the leisure moments from being dull and wearisome. More than this; it saves them from being devoted to ruinous indulgence. The soul-culture for which these fragments of time provide, lifts humanity above mere brutal enjoyments, and implants pleasures worthy of their race. Christian culture is essential to the subduing of sensuality, and the subduing of sensuality is essential to the permanent prosperity of both individuals and nations.

      But, it may be said, any considerable degree of culture will lift the masses above their vocations, and cause them to become dissatisfied with their lot; that the cultured mind despises drudgery. The very reverse of this is true. Culture dignifies labor and destroys drudgery. The man determines the dignity of the calling; not the calling the dignity of the man. Let men of culture carry their culture into their vocations, and their vocations will become honorable. Let cultured men plow and reap, and plowing and reaping will become as dignified as the "learned professions." Because a man can not wear as fine a garb at the forge as he can at the desk, it does not follow that his thoughts may not be as fine. A man may wear a polished intellect and a cultivated soul under a coarse garb as well as under a fine one; and he should be respected the more, if circumstances have compelled him to develop his intellectual and moral forces; if at all, under a rough exterior.

      While in these thoughts I have spoken of men, I have used the term generically. The principles apply with equal force to the women of this country. One of the great evils of our land is, that among the ladies, domestic labor is not sufficiently dignified. The number of mothers in the ordinary walks of life, silly enough to think that ignorance of domestic duties is an accomplishment for their daughters, is by no means small. This results from a want of true culture and common sense. There is no just reason why a young lady should not knead her dough and conjugate a Greek verb at the same time with equal skill. True culture will dignify domestic labor among women of all classes, and this will result in more domestic prosperity, and more domestic happiness. The rich and the poor will be brought into closer sympathy, unnecessary distinctions will be broken down, and the people will become one in the essential elements of good government and pure religion.

      Young ladies, you above all others should appreciate the blending of culture and Christianity. One glance at the history of the world must convince you that the highest culture, unsanctified by Christianity, has never elevated your sex above disgraceful servitude. Certainly you can not entertain the thought, that the culture which does not elevate woman can ever bless the world. Only Christianity has exalted the gentler sex to that position in the esteem and affections of men that God designed she should occupy. Hence, of all the friends of ancient Christianity, woman should be the truest and most lasting; and of all the enemies of modern Rationalism, she should be the most bitter and unrelenting.

      In conclusion, allow me to repeat the thought of the beginning, that it is the nature of man to look upward, and he who does not look upward is untrue to his nature. But in the flesh, we can only begin to ascend the heights of God. Here we are weighed down with infirmity, with our frail, decaying bodies; but our souls long for the power of incessant, never-wearying, glorious activity, awaiting us in the upper world. One of my highest conceptions of Heaven; one that thrills me to contemplate, is a life of no more prostration from labor; no more weariness of over-wrought brain; no aching head nor pain-racked body; but incessant labor, unincumbered by frail mortality; growth, development, expanding visions of God, among pure intelligences, and amid the celestial splendor of eternal worlds. But in the flesh, I can not bathe in those fountains of celestial light. Then let me leave this frail tenement of clay, as one steps out of the vehicle that can take him no farther, and leaving it behind, ascends the lofty mountain to gaze upon the unfolding wonders of God. Let my liberated spirit not only look upward, but mount upward, as on eagles' wings, till rising above the Pleiades, and leaving the Milky-way to fade out in the receding distance, it walks with God on the ever-ascending plain, reached only by culture and Christianity.

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