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The Spiritual Element

January 4, 1852 — Hopedale Community, Milford, MA


Another year has rolled up its record of deeds and events and passed away. The ocean of eternity has received the scroll and we see it no more. Yet the year that we have seen so coolly drawing to a close has left a mark never to be effaced. It opened upon the world with similes of mercy, to the suicidal throng that crowed its civilized, and its barbarous shores. It came with circling hours, and days, and months, affording time, measured and ample, to the children of men to learn wisdom and to love God. It unfolded with every passing moment evidences of His goodness and wisdom. Soft winds and gentle showers whispered his love — flowers of varied loveliness displayed His beauty and excellence — fruits and garnered harvests have continually assured the wandering children of men of his paternal care. Even, storms and tempests have been ministers of his justice and righteous government. He who inhabeteth eternity, visited the children of men in the hours of the year that has just passed, with the most gracious display of his power, and love and wisdom. The seasons were his kingly chariots whose wheels dropped blessings over every land. Night and day, sun and moon, seed time and harvest, have been the significant tokens of that eternal Love that has burned intensely and without variation for the good of man These have been true as the majesty of his own character, without variableness or shadow of turning.

Has the world made any progress in goodness? Has it advance done step? — the great family of man has made, I the aggregate, one degree wiser or happier during the year that has just now closed. We are too limited in our vision, too weak in our comprehension, rightly to judge or estimate. Human progress as a whole. We may have that faith in God’s wisdom and love that can rely calmly upon his purposes, hopefully and prayerfully that he will order all things for good, and “cause even the wrath of man to praise him.” And even amid the stupendous events of the age, when the whole civilized world is heaving like an ocean — when the whole question of human freedom is at issue, and we feel how much of human effort is needed, and yet how little we can give, we can only trust in the power of our God with a firm reliance, knowing that he needeth not the arm of flesh to execute his purposes; and although in the economy of his kingdom it is made our duty to labor jointly with him in promulgating the principles of human salvation — this is more for our sakes, than because he needs the efforts of our feeble arms.

While, then, we submit the general government of the nations of the earth to his wise sovereignty, knowing that, in his own good time, he will evolve light out of darkness, the more immediate circle of our influence — the nation, the town, the Community in which we have solemn and important responsibilities — he becomes at once an object of special interest to us, as we are posting up our annual business with reference to beginning another year of our immortal existence. We act in a three-fold character. We are moral, intellectual and physical beings. As such, individually we have capacities to be unfolded and developed, wants to be provided for, and obligations and responsibilities to fulfill. In each capacity have open accounts.

1. With the world, on whom we act collectively and as an association.
2. With each other, towards whom we have duties as individuals.
3. And all important, with God, the author of the laws that govern our individual being, and who will hold us severely accountable for all deficits that may be found against us at the last reckoning.

In each of these departments, we have capital and means furnished us to meet all demands against us, and, unlike the different departments of secular business in which we are engaged, depending on the world for success, the matter of our solvency rests entirely upon ourselves. This makes it a matter of serious consequence how we are coming out at the last — for should we come short, we have no excuse to offer, but to suffer the consequences of our fatal delinquencies.

How have we acted as a community, in reference to these three considerations that constitute our whole being!

Morally, we have reason to believe that our Community character has been fair, while we know that our standard is gloriously high, that we aim at nothing less than full perfection of Christian excellence, that we are clear from the evils which curse the world, that vice is, indeed, and in truth, among us a loathed and a hunted thing. We know that our internal and external regulations foster the virtues and seek to exterminate evils. We feel sure also, that every year deepens the impression in our immediate neighborhood that we are really a truth-loving and righteous people. We feel sure that our professions are beginning to gain the attention of the world, that is longingly looking for a more excellent way. We feel sure that we have a policy as well as a profession that must command respect, just in proportion as it is understood, and that we are emphatically “without compromise and concealment,” a people seeking to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humble before the Lord. Thus we stand before the world morally. Among ourselves, to each other, we are solemnly pledged to walk as becometh saints. We have set up a new and holy brotherhood, recognizing a common relationship, and acknowledging obligations to exercise all that affection that such a relation involves. We are bound together, by the fellowship of sentiment, feeling and affection, having “one faith, one Lord, one baptism.” The social and moral principle is conducted with direct reference to the authority of Christ. We are amenable, therefore, not only to his direct authority, but to that authority as expressed by the voice of the Community. We must submit to all its regulations, observe its injunctions, support its decisions or we no longer remain in its communion. This is right, necessary to our preserving a stability of Christian character. Improvements in internal discipline have been made the past year, and are being made continually. The Council of morals acts promptly, and, so far as I understand, wisely. With reference to morals, the Community have shown an impartial dealing, a proper consideration for individual peculiarities, and a just, though merciful and Christian government.

The principle cause for regret, and our great failing in the main seems to me to be two little attention to the cultivation of the spiritual element, that earnest faith, that enthusiasm, which would increase our power to thousands over the world, and that would give an intensity to our light that would penetrate the darkest corners of the earth. That would give to our prayers the efficiency to raze the strong hold of Satan to the ground and to the trumpet that we should blow a certain and a silvery sound. We, as a Community, trust too much in the outward, without taking sufficient care that the flame within our candlestick be intense and steady. We have paid too little attention to the spiritual element in our examinations for membership, consequently many who have been admitted take little or no interest in the exercise of devotion. Hence [. . . ] are often dull, our conference meetings thinly attended. The more religiously inclined are palsied with apathy, and that faith can remove mountains, has no birth in our midst. Such, at present, is our appearance, morally, as a Community.

Now let us consider how we are standing intellectually. Our school is sustained with a unity of feeling, and a steady cooperation, rarely, if ever surpassed, and so far as I have been able to judge, is managed wisely and judiciously. Our children, probably, are developing intellectually as fast as is for their best good. The public sentiment of the place is guided by a correct and efficient Board of Education, who are well-read and [un?]proved in the best methods of school regulations. Our Lyceum has been decently sustained through the year as to attendance, but yet the Community has been very deficient in bringing forward the latent talent that really exists, both in children and adults, in order that it might be hopefully encouraged and disciplined in a spirited and faithful Lyceum. For this deficit we lose much of prospective influence, if not present respect and intellectual power. We seem, as a Community, somewhat to undervalue the powers of the human intellect, and neglect its culture for objects of infinitely less importance. Herein we lose morally, and are verily guilty. Let us, then, in view of this great deficit, this culpable delinquency, explain with the beginning of the new year, Lord, forgive us for the neglect of the past, and help us, if the Community has one talent, to increase it even unto ten.

We are now brought to inquiry. What is the state of the Community, physically, with regard to the our man? General prosperity has attended us. We have had sunshine and harvest, fruits and grains, to reward us in proportion to our labor. Improvements have been made that give a glowing earnest of the Paradisical of our future domain. We have had an abundance indeed of the good things of nature, and have partaken, doubtless, to a great extent, with clean hands and thankful hearts. We have also in a degree redeemed ourselves from the great physical evils that curse society. Intemperance in alcoholic drinks has never drawn a first breath in our pure and healthful atmosphere. Tobacco is scarcely tolerated in any form, while tea and coffee are, from time to time, undergoing the scrutiny of increasing light and the power of moral principle. The tyranny of fashion has, the past year, lost power over many minds, and many of our members are beginning to set up for themselves, as their own judges of what is best and wisest for them to wear, in spite of fashion, and a perverted public taste. Yet, as a Community, we come far short of what we should be, in these respects. We are not sufficiently distinct from the world. We are not as yet that peculiar people, living epistles, known and read of all men, that we should be in order rightly to glorify our professions, and to improve our privileges. Instead of considering our union with the Community as the ultimatum of our reform life — the goal of our Christian experience, when improvements are to cease, and progress be stopped, we should consider it as but the starting point, from which we are to forget things that are behind, and press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling which is in Christ Jesus. From the moment we join the Community we are under the same obligations to make new applications of the principles of Christian duty to our lives and characters. We should advance in reform, inasmuch as the means of reform are here increased. Til then, we have been as trees growing in isolation and seclusion; now, we are transplanted into a garden, and have the nurture of the gardener’s care. We were, perchance, like the osier, swayed in our frailty and loneliness by the breath of public sentiment; now, we are supported by mutual obligations and strengthened by favoring influences.

We have now briefly considered our state, as a Community, with reference to our influence in a collective capacity, and altho’ there is much deficit to deplore, yet, we have reason to take new courage as we increase our zeal and vigor for the associative duties of the new year.

We come now to consider our standing Individually, which is the second main head of our present contemplation.

It was probably never expected that, by coming together, we should lose the infirmities of human nature, and appear altogether lovely, either to ourselves or to each other. On the contrary, the pure and transparent atmosphere created around us by the holy principles we profess rather magnifies the failings of individual character and facilitates a cure by exposing the enormity of the sore.

There have been instances of beautiful and soul-cheering fraternal feeling existing among individual members. Assistance has been rendered to the needy, and kindness to the sick, care and consideration to the less favored members of the Community is all true. Instances of disinterested love and self-denying devotion to the good others, I have not only observed among these associates, but have also been the grateful receiver of such kindnesses, whose perfume, sweet as gales from groves of spices, have filled succeeding days and weeks with precious assurances of love and joy. And, although the last and least of all in rendering these beautiful offices, I have, nevertheless, a heart to appreciate and a soul to honor those who are thus moved to act continually.

Individual faithfulness to the different reform movements, donations and self-sacrifice, have appeared bright and starlike among us, making the dim sky around seem indeed the darker, but giving also the sweet assurance that there was life in some souls, pure and undying, and that to be associated with such, is far better than to seek to keep alive in solitary wastes a flickering flame, with no answering ray to reflect back strength upon the soul that trembles. Individuals have also shown the most praiseworthy devotion to the conference meetings in regards to the [. . . ] interests of this Community, and the Sabbath school, the Discipline Meetings, Singing, &c, many have been faithful and true. Although instances of this kind have not been infrequent, they are far from being as general as they should be, among a people associated, as we are, for high and noble purposes, we have none of us made that high attainment in personal devotion, that it might reasonably have been expected we should make. Individual aim has been too low, and the cares and encumbrances of too much self-serving have occupied the golden moments that have been allotted.

It is easy to love our particular friends, those with whom we have long been associated. It is pleasant, indeed, to assist them, to be with them, to mingle voices, in reading and conversation, but in a Community like this, such exclusive friendships should not be cultivated to the neglect of others. All have claim upon our sympathy and attention, and although we must, as a matter of fact, have greater soul-affinities for some than for others, we should seek to deny, to a certain extent, these particular preferences, and to love and and (sic) all, as far as we can. If we love only our friends, what reward have we! do not even the publicans the same?

It is too much a mere cant phrase that we often speak — “we have too much to do!” Yet this is indeed true. Let us act as though we realized this fully and individually. We are to apply the great principles of Reform first to ourselves. Non-Resistance — The root of this principle, the very basis of all excellence, is Love — pure, gushing love — that shows itself in meekness, in humility, in gentleness, in self sacrifice, and in the habitual exercise of that spirit which renders good for evil, blessing for cursing, love for hate. How far we come short of wearing ever this calm, serene crown of Christian love, our own consciences doubtless testify to us in the silent chambers of our own souls, with sad reproaches. Here, then, is a matter for labor and prayer, in our effort to conform our lives to our acknowledged principles.

Anti-Slavery. — Here also is work for us to do, yet, in order to become purely, in our own souls, anti-slavery, a proper respect for the rights of others is quite essential to the true spirit. He who begins by intolerantly seeking to impose upon others his own notions, wishing to better the freedom of individual action, requiring undue burdens, and insisting upon unnecessary restrictions, who evinces a disposition to control by other means than by love and reason, has in his soul the elements of tyranny that would, perhaps, under other circumstances, be developed into the most criminal and heartless oppression. It becomes us, then, as lovers of freedom, to be free ourselves, owning no leader but Christ, and asking of others only that they act in accordance with their own sense of right, while we in love seek to enlighten and convince their understanding, and press home Christian obligation. Thus should we cultivate a kindly tolerant feeling, deference to others’ judgment, and charity for their motives, seeking in no wise to interfere with their freedom, and setting no iron hoof on their feelings. The soul, baptized by the true spirit of liberty, will never, under any temptation, attempt to coerce others. Such an one could never tyrannize, could never be a slaveholder. We should therefore, in order to be true to our anti-slavery principles, be gentle, be tolerant, be meek, be free. In this particular, as well as regarding our Non-Resistance, we have much deficit to lament. We are too apt to feel sour and disturbed, unless we can have things our own way. We show, perhaps, before we are aware, the spirit of the despot. We have too little respect for individual differences of opinion, and condemn often, without candid consideration. We are too apt to mistake our own will for zeal for truth. We should, indeed, labor, and persuade, and rebuke, with all diligence — but all should be done meekly, humbly, gently as the dews descend on Gideon’s flock. The spirit that would call down fire from heaven is the spirit of the destroyer, and we should overcome it. True zeal is like that lightning philosophers tell of, that melteth the sword but singeth not the scabbard.

As regards the equality of the sexes, in all privileges and responsibilities, our position imposes very serious obligations upon us, to be in ourselves what we profess to be. This Commonwealth has taken a stand radically different from the world around. Here a woman has no restrictions imposed because she is a woman, but has a fair chance to become all she is capable of being, and is encouraged to do all that she is capable of doing. Here, the duties of home impose upon her the same solemn responsibilities that are never, under any circumstances to be treated with contempt, or neglect; for the same Father who commanded her too (sic) love her neighbor as herself, made her the mother of the race, and one obligation to him never can conflict with another — so also the responsibility of providing for the temporal wants of his children rests upon the father, is he therefore released from all philanthropic responsibilities to the race? That man is the best father who takes the deepest interest in the welfare of mankind, and the mother who carefully attends to her intellectual and moral nature – interesting herself in the large and perishing family of man, and developing her philanthropy in connection with her intellect, in ameliorating their condition, may do as much toward elevating the character of her children — and inspiring them with universal love, as though she were to spend all her time for the merely physical. I know, with all the advantages of our own Christian Socialism, there is a practical want in reference to aiding woman to an entire and perfect development. This want I conceive would be remedied by a combined household, where she might be occasionally relieved from the care of the family — and be free to exert her nobler powers unfettered. Women can only do intellectually and philanthropically by dint of extra toil or retrenchment, and . . . be sacrificed. O, my sisters — are we willing for the sake of any trifling gratification to remain in the same beaten track that woman’s foot has only trod for ages in the world, and thus give them power to say, surely, “woman’s sphere is bounded by care for what we shall eat, and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed.” We must do this homework in order to live in good condition, and live to do it as the end of our existence.

As individuals, intellectually, we have all great deficits to deplore. How many of us are conscious that the one talent we possessed at the commencement of the last year is now increased? How many of us feel that every passing year unfolds and increases our capacity to comprehend our own destiny, and the laws of our being? That we have new powers to discover truth, and can make new applications of it; that we are increasing in our capacity for happiness and for usefulness; that we are doing all we can to cultivate our richly endowed minds? How many consider the body and the wants of the body secondary to the demands of the undying soul? Alas! how many women of us live here who feel an abiding consciousness that we are washing and ironing and cleaning in order to unfold our souls to the highest point of development? Do we not rather feel that we binding the angels wings of our minds? And wearing and cramping its mighty powers to gratify the animal wants of our bodies that perish with the using? To please an evanescent fancy, a perverted taste, or merely to conform to the world and to be like other folks! This should not be in a Christian Community. Life’s great end should be expressed in the old catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We should not set our affections on any household gods. Only upon the higher pleasures of eternal goodness can the soul find rest. Can we find anything that will serve us instead? Will the gratification of pride, of ideality, of taste, or order, furnish rest to the soul that feels not the consciousness of doing all with reference to the fulfillment of the purpose of its creation? Is there on earth an eternal happiness? Where is it? What is it made of? Who has found it? Who was he that last enjoyed it? Where dwelt he? Indeed, so far as duty and necessity require, we must be content to mind the things below. But, who is he that is happy himself within the compass of these limits? Ah! we see, we feel the emptiness of all these things and the preciousness of things above! If our thoughts should, like the laborious bee, go over the world from flower to flower, from creation to creation, they would bring no honey or sweetness home, save what they gathered from our relation to eternity.

There is much said about a preparation for the future that is meaningless talk — mere cant. Yet we need a rigid and strict discipline of our higher natures in order to enter upon a higher life. To this end we should render a covenant and faithful attention to all the duties that devolve upon us, and he who best attends to daily avocations, moved by the highest and holiest motives, is best preparing himself for immortality. A continued an abiding consciousness of our eternal destiny — of our immortal capabilities, and the claims of Christianity upon us, will lead us to discriminate between true and false wisdom, in the arrangement and execution of our business. We should then regulate its details with regard to economy and time-saving, discarding what depends merely upon custom and habit, without sacrificing anything really essential to true order, cleanliness and comfort. Are we not bound, as Christians, to sacrifice personal vanity, perverted tastes, the desires of ambition — in [?], all unnecessary labor, even though we discard practices sanctioned by honored grandparents, in order to acquire time for the development of our higher natures, and with reference to the wants of a suffering world. The wisdom of our physical and mental organization is infinite, and glorious as is the perfection of Him who will require an account for the improvement of all our gifts. This truth we may be sure of. Whatever is wisest and best for us to do, will afford us the greatest happiness in doing it. It may be pleasant and satisfactory, for a time, to know that our wardrobe is made with the elaborate finish of the most approved styles, to see our linen resting beautiful folds, without a wrinkle; to see our pantry arranged with the most tempting and attractive pastry. But when all this is done, to entire neglect of mind; when the consciousness settles, with dark raven wing, over our souls, “this, alas? is it the end of our living: How inadequate this seems to satisfy the yearnings of our angel natures. Far happier should we be clothed in a robe worn without seam — or bureaus filled with clean, though unironed linen — our panties with bread and fruit, and our souls glowing brighter by uninterrupted cultivation, and the benighted wanderers of earth, rising up on all sides and blessing us for the waters and the bread of life.

Lastly and most important of all, is that part of our subject contemplating our responsibility to God, the author of the laws that govern us as moral, intellectual, and physical existences. A strict account will be required of our stewardship, and of the improvement we have made of the talents intrusted to us. I feel wholly incompetent to treat this part of the subject before us, as it should be, in order to arouse our sluggish souls to a realization of the fearful and momentous responsibilities that rest upon us. My own conception of the [?] give power to its enforcement. Unconscious as we are of the full evil of sin; retribution, is indeed, to us, a “terra incognita,” and shall we attempt to portray dangers  we so imperfectly realize? We know that we must all appear upon the judgment seat of Christ; that our lives and acts will all be scrutinized. Then will it be asked of us how we are attempting to do in Hopedale. We have taken the whole “livery of Heaven.” Shall we waste it upon vanity and selfishness? Without retiring to the gloom and indolence of monastic seclusion, we have here in the best sense taken the veil of God. Before the altar of Christian self-sacrifice we have taken the vow of separation from the world.

We profess to have relinquished the career of worldly ambition, fame, wealth, and every other road through which the mere votaries of pleasure march to the gratification of their desires, and to be filled with a desire to illustrate the way of righteousness in the gospel of true peace. We profess to stand upon the Mount which the Savior occupied when under satanic temptation, and refuse all the kingdoms of the world rather than give up the object which fills our hearts and employs our hands. We have no less a mission on earth than to illustrate practical Christianity. We have invited the attention of the world. We have said the benighted children of men, look to us and we will teach you how to live! We have raised the pure standard of the Prince of Love, and acknowledged ourselves worthy to bear it before the multitudes of the earth. O, how fearful is the responsibility that we have taken upon ourselves? How tremblingly alive should we be to the importance of the work which we have attempted! We should approve ourselves to God and to the world, not like the wickedly allied church organizations of the present day, who have nothing but the name Christian, but are like empty and dismantled ships, moored in the narrow creek of sectarianism, useless and indolent. Let us find our emblem in the richly freighted vessel, gliding , with every sail well set, before the breezes of heaven, and traversing the mighty ocean of time to enrich the nations with our precious cargo. The apostle has particularly specified is what way this may be effected. “In much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distress, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by a holy spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report. What amoral sublimity in our mission! Now of ease and worldly honor and prosperity, but of a meek and patient illustration of the Christian character, acting individually and collectively. Yet, with every help afforded by the association here, how hard a thing is it to be a consistent Christian! How difficult a thing is it to maintain the purity and vigor of true love! How often do our steps slip, and our exertions relax, and often through the deceitfulness of our own hearts, without knowing ourselves where we wander. It may sometimes be said of us, as of Israel of old, “Strangers have devoured his strength, yet he know it not.” O, then let us, with reference to the importance of the world to which we are called, seek for greater faithfulness. Let us seek to excel in all our social duties, exerting upon each other the most salutary influences, seeking the moral welfare of each, encouraging the intellectual development, the social improvement, and striving to promote the physical well-being of each associate.

How proper, then, at the commencement of anew year, that we should carefully examine all our books, that we may derive wisdom from the experience of the past. That we may be humbled and warned in view of each great deficit. Morally, intellectually and physically, let us go on unto perfection, feeling that to shrink from brave, heroic action in any of these respects, is to injure a cause we are pledged to support, to the best of our ability. “There is no obstacle to him who wills,” is a significant motto, and every man and woman can be just what they desire to be. Let our standard, then, be high, and we go on with zeal and energy to realize our ideal, cultivating at the same time the right, the devoted, the tolerant and the loving spirit.

Allow me, as I close this discourse, to allude to a scene founded upon Josephus, and most beautifully alluded to by Chroley in his “Selathiel.” I may not get his precise words, for it has been long since I read the description. “The night previous to the destruction of Jerusalem voices were heard in the air, low and plaintive — “Let us depart,” was the song of sorrow — “Let us go hence,” was borne upon the night winds, and echoed from distant mountains. Angelic beings were seen moving slowly through the dark oppressive air. The stars upon their helmets dim, tears streaming down their celestial beauty — these were the guardian angels of the city of David; and as, despairing and sad, they withdrew their celestial presence, swift destruction followed, and ere the rising of another sun, the gilded streets of that proud city were trampled by the feet of the destroyer.” So it may be with us. We may build our temples and pave our streets with gold, we may multiply our rules and increase our numbers, we may throw out upon the breeze the purest standard the world ever saw, and blazon upon our walls the noblest principles; but if we neglect to cherish love, joy, faith, hope, long-suffering, mercy, purity, peace, this celestial army of holy guardians, if we neglect to minister at their altar, and consecrate no temple to their pure spiritual worship; then will these bright beings fold their wings and leave us, more despairing than they left Jerusalem of old. Our strength departed, enemies who are digging around, will soon enter in and take possession, and ere long revenge, deceit, and every ravenous beast of prey will be found in the desolate wastes of our now peaceful and prosperous home. Le us then beware and guard jealously our higher interests. 



Source: The Practical Christian, Vol. XII, No. 24.