THE ALLIES OF THE TEMPTER.
He that is not with me is against me. -- MATTHEW xii.30.
One of the discourses of the preceding series was devoted to a consideration of the vices -- especially the three prominent vices -- of great cities. I propose at the present time to speak of the Influences, more or less direct, by which these and kindred evils are encouraged. Vice, and moral corruption of any kind, no doubt has its roots in the gross hearts and in the perverted appetites of men. But the most superficial observer must see that these are nourished not merely by their native soil, but by the social atmosphere which spreads around. Of course character constitutes the man, and, however this may be affected by circumstances, it enfolds the consciousness of an original personality acting upon and through and in spite of its conditions. Nevertheless, the ingredients of this very personality are assimilated out of these conditions, and it is difficult to limit or define the subtile elements that blend in the deepest currents of a man's nature. It is, at least, a simple truism that he differs in one state of society from what he is in another. And, therefore, among the forces which help make up his moral condition, we must calculate the social forces. His virtues are not all self-sustained, and his vices draw nutriment from fine and remote channels. It would be an interesting process to analyze our own habits and temper and cast of thought, and find how much of this is involved with our physical relations. The air we breathe, the house in which we dwell, the very way in which it fronts the sun, the degrees of light and of shade that fall upon us with the flying hours, all weave their delicate influences into the tissues of our being. And how much that we do not suspect comes to us, day by day, in social intercourse, in the bearing of friends, in the tone and air of conversation, in the mere magnetism of the parlor or the street! How much to strengthen or to weaken us; to clear or to cloud our moral atmosphere; to make us fresh and decisive, or to slowly sap our virtue! But it is a more solemn task to compute the influences that proceed from us, and to discover how, unknown to ourselves, we are swaying the circles of other lives. Why, the mightiest forces go silently. You do not see the gases that compose the vital air. You do not feel the aroma that steals along loaded with poison, or wafts a blessing through the sick man's window. You do not hear the electric pulse that beats in the summer light and in the drop of dew. Neither can you estimate the mysterious attraction that plays all through this network of social relations, nor the energy of good or of evil with which it is charged not merely from your words and deeds, but from the still reservoir of your example.
When I look around at the prevalent vices of the city, then, and at its various forms of corruption, I am not willing to rest with the mere assertion, that all this is the fruit of personal sin and folly on the part of those who have yielded to temptation. It is the fruit of personal sin and folly. And we, perhaps, in our serene respectabilities, shrink back and wonder at it. It is strange -- is it not? -- that the young, the fair, the gifted, should yield themselves to that arch-deceit which has allured and ruined men for six thousand years? Is it not the same old guilt, the same sophistry and foolishness, here in New York, that it always has been? Did it not bear the same Circean cup through the halls of Nineveh and Babylon, and fling Caesars and Alexanders to the ground? Did it not wear the same seductive smile and harlot tinsel when it walked the streets of Tyre, and reclined in the decorated chambers of Egypt? And will not its votaries find now, as then, that it entices with the embrace of death and the fascination of hell? Why should they thus float upon the very rim of this great whirlpool, and not notice the groans that come up from its depths; and see that its phosphoric illusion is mixed with fiery flakes of torment and the foam of despair? It is indeed wonderful that so many should be thus deluded over and over again; so many noble energies thrown away, so many sanctions trampled upon, so many bright hopes quenched for ever. It is wonderful that any being made in the form of man, should cast down his prerogatives and wallow like the beast. Sufficient evidence of sin and folly in those who do this, to be sure; but in what way do these allurements present themselves? What are the resources and entrenchments of these vices, by which they act upon human appetite and passion? You point me to brilliant windows and gay apartments; to sparkling glasses, and shining heaps, and shapes of painted shame. |These,| you say, |are the forms which the Tempter assumes. Under smiling features and fair garlands, he hides at first that hideousness which in due time is revealed to his victims. From the lighted vestibules which open so easily to the touch, and where all seems only a coronation of youthful pleasure and natural joy, the feet of men slide downward into those abysses which are hidden from the public gaze, and over whose depths the blackness of darkness broods.| And all this, again, is true. These are the ways in which the Tempter works. But is there nothing but this to explain the power which evil has upon men, in the midst of the great city? These manifold allurements, these haunts of infamy and shambles of destruction -- I see them standing upon strange foundations. I see them propped by these very influences to which I have alluded; influences of social condition and individual example. They would not be so formidable, they would not stand so long, were it not that respectability in its daily walk and conversation; and social culture in thousands of homes; and even justice in its lofty seat; lend them support. |He that is not with me is against me,| said Jesus; and, taking this proverb as a rule, a good many people may be surprised to find that, in one way and another, they are Allies of the Tempter.
The allies of the Tempter, I propose to speak of now -- not the forms of Temptation, which I have already illustrated. Nor do I intend to dwell upon those direct conditions of moral evil, out of which vice and crime grow as spontaneously as weeds out of a damp and neglected soil -- those wide seed fields of ignorance and abject poverty which lie around us. But the more remote and indirect causes it may be profitable for us to consider; and to these I now proceed.
I observe, then, in the first place, that the Tempter has one Ally in Public Sanction. There are sources of vice and crime that are permitted and encouraged by Law. I hardly need specify the prominent instance to which I allude. But I am not aware of a more enormous public inconsistency than what is termed |the License System| -- the system of permitting the sale of intoxicating drinks in a degree, and of restricting them in a degree. For, by this method, either a moral wrong is committed, or else a civil one. If these drinks are an individual and public injury; if they distribute the seeds of disease, crime, death, and every form of social misery; then what right have we in any respect to set upon them the solemn sanction of a Law? If, on the other hand, they are a benefit to mankind; a good gift of Providence, as some seem to think; why should we hamper their circulation? Why should we allow one man the privilege of distributing such a blessing, and forbid another who, no doubt, is equally zealous for the public good?
But this very system is a confession by public opinion, in its most authentic form of expression, that the sale of intoxicating drinks is an evil. |Only,| we are told, |as it is a prevalent and deep-seated evil, it must be regulated.| But how can we regulate an irregularity? How can you regulate an obstruction that is involved with the springs of a machine, or the works of a clock? The only possible method obvious to common sense, would be to remove the obstruction; and it would be thought the most foolish speculation conceivable for one to spend his ingenuity in contriving some way to keep the obstruction where it is, and yet to keep the clock going as it ought. If it moved regularly, the matter referred to would not be an obstruction; and if it did not, the contrivance to keep it there would be a help to the obstruction. Now, I consider this great vice of Intemperance a decided obstruction in the clock-work of an individual man, or the more general mechanism of society. It transforms a great many faces into bad dial-plates, disturbs the pendulum of public order, makes people go much too fast, and renders them liable to strike at all times. Now, if a man, or a community, can be made to go just as well with it as without it, we certainly need no legislation, for there is no obstruction. On the other hand, if it is essentially an irregularity, the only rational method is to get rid of its accessories altogether. To enact some way in which the irregularity shall work, is to confirm and sanction the irregularity. And the license-system -- for I wish to be plain and specific here -- confirms and sanctions the agents of intemperance. It indicates a way in which the irregularity may work.
And not only is vice thus aided by the Law. The existence of such a sanction engenders either an error or a moral wrong. For it indicates that the sale of intoxicating drinks is a public benefit, which is false; or, on the other hand, that it is lawful to uphold an evil. The same principle carried out by individuals, would excuse almost any fault. The man who steals a loaf of bread may contend that it is a necessary expedient; and he who fills an empty purse at his neighbor's expense, only endeavors to regulate an irregularity.
But suppose we make the system a strict one, what process should be employed? Probably you would say -- |break up all these filthy and low haunts; all these places where the habitually intemperate, the degraded, the wretchedly poor congregate; and let these beverages be sold only in respectable places and to respectable people.| But is this really the best plan? On the contrary, it seems quite reasonable to maintain that it is better to sell to the intemperate than to the sober -- to the degraded than to the respectable -- for the same reason that it is better to burn up an old hulk than to set fire to a new and splendid ship. I think it worse to put the first glass to a young man's lips, than to crown with madness an old drunkard's life-long alienation -- worse to wake the fierce appetite in the depths of a generous and promising nature, than to take the carrion of a man, a mere shell of imbecility, and soak it in a fresh debauch. Therefore, if I were going to say where the License should be granted in order to show its efficacy, I would say -- take the worst sinks of intemperance in the city, give them the sanction of the Law, and let them run to overflowing. But shut up the gilded apartments where youth takes its first draught, and respectability just begins to falter from its level. Close the ample doors through which enters the long train of those who stumble to destruction and reel into quick graves, and let the flood overwhelm only the maimed and battered conscripts that remain. Besides, it is better to see vice as it really is, than as it sometimes appears. The danger of intemperance is when it assumes this very garb of respectability, and sits in the radiant circle of fashion attended by wit and beauty and social delight. Let us see the Tempter, not as he seems when he throws out his earliest lures, in festal garments and with roses around his brow; but as he looks when fairly engaged in his work, showing his genuine expression. Let us see this vice of intemperance in its results, as they teem and darken here in the midst of our city life. Lay bare its channel -- let us see to its very depths -- where it flows over the wrecks of human happiness, and over dead men's bones. Lay bare its festering heaps of disease, its madness, its despair, its domestic desolation, its reckless sweep over all order and sanctity; and thus, tracing it from its sources under glittering chandeliers and in fonts of crystal, we shall be able to say -- |this is the real element which exists and does its work, by public connivance and with the sanction of Law!|
If you ask me then, whether I think that a statute of absolute prohibition would stop this flowing curse, I reply that at least it would put the influence of authority on the right side. It would lend it the force of consistent endeavor. As it is, it would be far better if the public sanction had no expression; for now it only confirms and guarantees the evil. Its power is exerted not in the right, but in the wrong direction. It is an ally of the tempter. For the spirit of everlasting Justice and Benevolence, speaking as it were by the mouth of Jesus, says -- |He that is not with me is against me.|
But I observe, in the second place, that the forces of temptation in the city are nourished by public neglect. In individual experience it will be found, I think, that sins of omission are more numerous and are worse than sins of commission. If we examine our lives closely, we shall discover that our moral indebtedness comes even less from what we have done, than from what we ought to have done. And this individual experience has a counterpart in social conditions. How many evils among us grow up under the shadow of inoperative laws -- laws which have a voice and nothing else -- nay, hardly a voice, so seldom are they heard even to speak. They appear to have been enacted merely as a compliment to decency, and they remain in the statute-book as |idle as painted ships upon a painted ocean.| The dens of debauch keep open doors night and day; the saloons of profligacy send out their cards of invitation; the gambler rattles his triumphant dice; but excursive policemen never see, and vigilant magistrates never hear! Some provision of nature has imparted a very singular quality to the optic powers of the one, and the auditory nerves of the other. The laws against this vice, or that custom, stand fixed and silent; and as for putting them in operation, one would as soon think of pulling up so many grave-stones. They are the grave-stones of a dead public sentiment -- the stumbling-blocks of a blind justice, that too often shakes hands with the very guilt which it professes to condemn. I do not, by any means, believe that everything is to be accomplished by law. I do not believe that the profoundest results are to be accomplished by it. But, if it possesses any efficacy at all, it consists in its power to repress open and shameless wrong; and where any such wrong is open and shameless, public neglect is the cause, and such public neglect, therefore, is an Ally of the Tempter. And let us consider the enormity of such evils. In every great city there are some omissions of executive duty, which, though grievous to be borne, are noticed with good humor. But there are moral swamps, sending up their foul steam to pollute the common light; there are kennels of uncleanness, running with the waste of human lives, sweeping along with the death-gurgle of human souls; there is a dry-rot of impurity infecting the town-air, withering the dearest sanctities of society and of home -- and over this kind of evil we cannot be facetious. Think how much is risked here, and how much is lost! Domestic happiness, reputation, honor, health, order, the prospects of the young, the peace of the old -- Fathers, the hopes of your sons! Mothers, the interests of your daughters! and, though speaking may have little effect, say whether we ought not to speak, and to speak indignantly, of the neglect which lets these evils spread with deadly luxuriance, and winks at them as though they were harmless?
But, my friends, what do we mean by |public sanction,| or |public neglect?| There are some convenient synonyms which help us to cover up our personal responsibility -- help us to transfer our own sense of duty to a vague secondary agent, and keep peace with our own consciences. And yet they are only synonyms, after all. Now this term |public| is but another word for the aggregate of our personal obligations, and does not for a single moment rid us of our share in the general influence. The real point of my present topic is this -- you and I and every other individual involved in this network of social relations, are helping or weakening the force of these prevalent evils. And it may arouse us to some decision of conduct to consider how the most respectable -- those who would shrink with horror from these foul customs -- are, nevertheless, Allies of the Tempter. And I might state, as a comprehensive proposition, that every man is an Ally of the Tempter, who does not put forth a conscious and positive moral energy; who does not habitually throw his example and his influence in the right direction. It is not enough that he abstains from wrong himself -- that he is chaste, and temperate, and upright, and unimpeached. For perhaps the most hopeless people, morally speaking, are those people who, according to their own confession, |have never done any harm.| There is a good prospect for those who are trying to grow better, however they may slip and flounder. There is hope, on the other hand, for the desperately wicked -- for the very violence of one extreme precipitates the other; and sometimes the best and purest souls have been swept by a thunder-shower of sin. But those who rest upon the fact that they |have never done any harm,| by being so easily contented show but little moral vitality. There is no aspiration in their natures. They seem to have no particular mission in the universe; for, if they have never done any harm, they have done little else. They are poorly fitted for this earth, which demands the effort of all our faculties; poorly fitted for heaven, whose inhabitants would not make harmlessness their chief characteristic. Their residence and their paradise might be a great exhausted receiver, where there is no gravitation to draw them down, and no air to send them up. But, in truth, these people deceive themselves. Every man exerts a positive influence, and cannot, if he would, be a mere negation in the world. In the great conflict of good and evil there is no middle ground. There are no compromises in God's government, and neutral men are the devil's allies. |He that is not with me, is against me.|
Let us see, then, how possible it is that we may contribute to the force of evil in the City. In other words, let us inquire -- in what way do respectable and harmless people, as they deem themselves, become Allies of the Tempter?
In the first place, by their customs. And, chief of all, by the custom of an intense and inconsiderate selfishness. How many there are who require no other sanction for what they do than |that pleases me,| or |this gratifies me!| It is wonderful what a mighty agent self is, estimated by its own standards. It is the hero of every exploit, the centre of every event, and the oracle of all opinions. It interprets the purpose of the universe; it finds out exactly what the world was made for. At least, a good many, apparently, have ascertained that the world was made for them, and that they were sent into it to get what gratification they can. And it appears sadly out of tune to them, if it does not serve this end. In anything they do, therefore, they consider only selfish consequences. They do not apprehend the universe in its great harmony. They do not trace out its web of mutual relations -- a braid of light held in the hand of Infinite Love. They do not know the sympathy that shoots in the crystal, and shimmers in the aurora, and beats in the heart of the ocean, and makes the silent music that rolls from sphere to sphere along the glittering scale of heaven. If they did, they would discover, perhaps, that the social world is constructed upon the same plan; and man cannot be an alien from the common humanity however hard he may try. Yes: concerning any custom, you have not only yourself to consider, but the bearings of its influence throughout this tissue of hearts and minds with which you are involved. You cannot isolate yourself from your responsibilities. You cannot shut yourself within comfortable walls, and say -- |Here is the limit of my obligations, and here I will do as I please!| You may say this, but you do not rid yourself of these claims. Through imperceptible aqueducts your influence runs abroad; and what you do, and what you are, contributes particles of disease or health to the social atmosphere that envelopes all. I look around, then, upon the vices and even the crimes of the City, and I say that some of them find root in the customs of the respectable and the fashionable. Profligacy, which we shrink from in its open profession, and which appears abominable in its avowed haunts, finds encouragement wherever the libertine receives the smile of beauty, and the guilt of the meanest sort of a man is excused on account of an agreeable manner. Thus the poison of the snake, and the blight of his venom on many a reputation and many a womanly heart, is all forgotten in the drawing-room, because of the fascination of his hiss and the glitter of his skin. Again, the Tempter has an Ally in the world of Traffic, wherever bad things are stamped with respectable names -- when, for instance, swindling is called |smartness,| and robbery |per-centage.| Among people of less note in the world these matters are named |cheating| and |stealing,| and some of them may take punishment the more reluctantly because they cannot perceive the difference. And, still again, I think that a little use of intoxicating drinks is like the little matter that kindles a great fire, and that there would not be so much intemperance if there were not so many |temperate| drinkers. The sluices of the grog-shop are fed from the wine-glasses in the parlor; and there is a lineal descent from the gentleman who hiccups at his elegant dinner-table to the sot who makes a bed of the gutter.
|Am I my brother's keeper?| asked the first man who reddened his hands with the violated life of a man; and the answer came crying upward in a voice of blood from the ground. |Am I my brother's keeper?| you ask, perhaps, with a tone of surprise or scorn. You ask O! respectable gentleman or lady; O! man in the thick of business; O! self-indulgent Epicurean; -- and the answer comes to you not from the ground merely, but from the universal air -- the answer of kindred pulses, of confluent sympathies, of an inseparable humanity -- though it swarms in rags, and riots in shame, and seems far off from you in its hell of debasement and despair. Nay, perhaps the answer comes very near to you. It may come from some one of your own household. You may ask -- |Who has tempted even my very child?| Ask Yourself -- |Need he have gone outside this very door to find temptation?| Ah! perhaps you are not merely an Ally of the Tempter, but have furnished conscripts for his vast army. Your children perhaps will rise up and call you -- not |blessed.| And see, too, what kind of conscripts the Tempter draws from the ranks of respectable and especially of fashionable life. Mere striplings, so dwarfed and dwindled by precocious dissipation that they look like feeble specimens of wax-work; whose faculties -- the evident product of a thin soil -- have been developed by bottles of wine and fast horses; whose memories are too short to remember their parents; whose ideas are too artificial to touch any genuine spring of nature; who are ashamed of true manliness, and make a miserable farce of what they call |manliness;| and who, as they parade the streets, make up a sort of bombastic interlude in the drama of |Young America.|
But, whatever view we may take of this general subject, it is evident that we cannot easily exaggerate the influence of |respectable and fashionable| customs upon the forces of temptation. And, surely, it becomes each of us to consider the tendencies of his own example, and ask -- |Is it toward the right or the wrong? Is it for, or against the good?|
Again, the Tempter finds help from our indifference. This, indeed, may be the qualification which should be applied to the remarks I have just made. It is not to be supposed that the evil influences which go out from the customs alluded to, are the results of intention. They spring up in a lack of interest and of the consciousness of duty. They grow rank and luxuriant in neglect. If we were only in earnest as to these vices and crimes and guilty customs; if we would only wake from our apathy, to reflection and conviction; how soon would they diminish, and how many of them would pass away!
But, as comprehensive of this, and in fact all the rest that may be said, I observe, finally, that the temptations of a great city are strong because of a lack of the spirit of Christian love. In one respect, especially, is it true that men in general are not with Jesus, and therefore are against him. They have not his sympathies, his spirit of self-sacrifice, his broad, deep, universal charity. Baneful customs, and cold indifferentism grow up in a soil that is watered by no living and unselfish love. They show the dryness and the baseness of our social state. And it is not merely in the lack of active and practical love that the Tempter grows strong; but in the exercise of a prevalent uncharitableness. Too many of us have no disposition but scorn for the fallen; see no blessed possibilities in them; do not detect any divine ray glimmering in the thick darkness -- do not discern the precious soul, like a crown-jewel, in its filthy and battered casket. And if this paralyzes and kills the springs of our own activity, need I say how the hearts of the offending are repelled and hardened in such a hostile atmosphere? Need I say how desperate is the Ishmaelitish conviction; the sense of isolation and antagonism; and, on the other hand, how powerful and healing, even for the most distant and hopeless, is the sweet attraction of sympathy? And what are we, that we dare to cherish this exclusive horror, this pitiless, unrelenting scorn? When we consider our own slips, compared with our temptations; the account to which God may hold us, not the smooth standards of human respectability; how much higher is our own moral level, that we feel no chords of a common humanity reaching down even to those fallen ones, and cannot stoop to touch them? My friends, it may be, after all, that the Tempter has no surer ally than the averted face of contempt and the word of unsoftened rebuke, driving the barb of conscious guilt deeper and despairingly into a brother's soul.
And, as I look upon this mass of social evil, these steaming wells of passion, these solid fortifications of habit where the Tempter is entrenched, I ask how is all this to pass away? And the answer is -- only by the spirit of Christian Love, sweeping these impediments of selfishness from the heart, and animating us to effort. With Christ the work certainly can be done. In this Gospel-beating amidst the guilt and sorrow of the world like the pulsations of a Divine heart -- in the few leaves of this Testament -- there is an illimitable power, before whose inspiration in the purposes and deeds of men no evil thing shall stand. And the spirit and exercise of this Love is Religion. It is the up-shot of all that is preached -- it is the open and tangible test of every mystic experience that drifts through the soul -- it is so deep, so broad, and runs so far, that it comprehends all requirements; and they who cherish it, and practice it in the low and dark and desolate places of the world, are the true saints. Nothing else will do in its place. Not Churches, nor creeds, nor rituals, nor respectabilities. Without it we are not friends of Christ, nor co-workers with God. Without it we deepen the channels of human woe, and prop the strong-holds of wickedness. Without it, whatever we may not be, we are Allies of the Tempter. The Saviour says to each of us to-day, placed amidst these antagonistic forces of Life -- |He that is not with me is against me.|