It is a Gospel Temperance Work
December 11, 1878 — Second Annual Meeting of the W.C.T.U. of Minnesota, Owatonna MN
Ladies, a year ago, an invitation sent out for the temperance women of our state to meet at Minneapolis to take into consideration the expediency of organizing a state W.C.T.U. A few earnest christian women met in Westminister church at the time appointed, with, I think, no very well defined idea what they were to do. Some perhaps shrinking from doing work in a public manner, were deterred from going, fearing it was another crusade movement. However, be that as it may, the convention was held, and after praying and talking over the matter, a W.C.T.U. was organized for the state of Minnesota. I assure you ladies it was with great reluctance and many misgivings that I accepted the office of President of that Union. The work was so new, and the workers were so few and scattered, as they must necessarily be in a new state, and there were so many obstacles seen and unseen to be overcome, I felt then and feel still that it needed a stronger hand and a wiser head to stand at the helm of this good ship Temperance, and guide it skilfully over the rough waters and on through breakers of opposition and hindrances that must be met before the close of this first year.
But we have reached the shore and are about to step aside and resign the work to other hands. No doubt the officers that have manned this little craft, look back with many regrets that so little has been accomplished. All the acts of the year are written down and sealed up; all that has been done, and all that has been left undone, all has gone before the great White Throne and we must at last hear the welcome “well done,” or be charged with an unfaithful stewardship; with having hidden even our one talent in a napkin. As we have cheerfully taken up what has come to our hands to do, or as we have selfishly put it away from us, so we must meet it at last. It has most assuredly been pioneer work, and I can but believe it is the beginning of a grand work for Christ and our fellow men.
We believe these W.C.T.U.’s are an outgrowth of the crusade movement. It is the crusade modified, made practical, more adapted to woman’s nature and woman’s work. It is a gospel temperance work, largely carried on by prayer. One of our best temperance workers in Chicago says she is jealous of any step taken in this direction that is not baptized with prayer. It is another phase of temperance reform. And may we not hope it is the gathering up and putting together the fragments of past experiences, thus developing out of these fragments a plan of work that will do more than any that has gone before, because Christ and he alone is recognized as the great moving power, and as our rock of defence, our refuge and our sure helper. Reform is not the sudden birth of a year or a day, but advances slowly as the dawning grows into the sunshine, though by no means with the same regularity and harmony. It is linked to the past by many feeble, imperfect, perhaps blundering efforts of those who discerned it with more or less prophetic clearness, worked it out some little way and left their discoveries and mistakes as a legacy to a riper time.
Nor are these strivings fruitless though they may utterly fail of reaching their aim; nor are they lost, though they make no impresssion and excite no interest and apparently pass away to be buried with the things that were. Yet these very efforts prove the existence of an evil that must be met sooner or later. Great achievements are sometimes realized from small beginnings. Doubtless we can some of us remember when our fathers banished all intoxicating drinks from their harvest fields. It required no small amount of moral courage and stability of character to do such a thing in that day. I fancy those sturdy men little imagined the significance of such an act and how deeply the roots of those tiny seeds sown in those doings would strike down into the soil and what fruit they would bring forth. But the eye that never slumbers nor sleeps, but sees from the beginning to the end and knows all the needs of the future, watched over these sowings. They were watered with the dews of divine approval, and from time to time in all these years there have been reapings from that seed, not rich and abundant harvests, yet a few sheaves have been gathered.
It was the beginning of all temperance reforms which have been inaugurated in the last forty years. Of all the imperfections of the different forms of temperance work we will not now attempt to speak. But we will venture to say that the causes of these imperfections, have been a misconception of the magnitude of the evil that they have had to deal with. The iron wills that stood behind the first gun that was fired at Sumter, were as a thread of tow, when compared with the strength of the chains with which this monster binds his victims. The evil has grown with its growth and strengthened with its strength until it has assumed such dreaded dimensions that we stand appalled before it. It has never been idle, but has year by year taken new attitudes and presents, in its bold front, barriers to be overcome that were never dreamed of in the earlier days of temperance reform. It was then a cloud no larger than a man’s hand, but it has spread from the horizon to the zenith until darkness thick and impenetrable hangs over our heads, sometimes without one ray of light to show us the way.
But as we stand in the shadow of this great cloud that has gathered over us, let me be the bearer of glad tidings even out of this great darkness; tidings that are today echoing and reechoing from east to west, from north to south, that there is light and that even this cloud has its silver lining.
We are beginning to read aright the teachings of our Divine Master when he said, “Whatsoever ye ask in my name I will give it you.” God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. My sisters, is this why our Father has put this work into our hands to do? Let us be content to have it so, and willingly walk in the valley of humiliation, rather than that we should not do it wisely and well.
These then are the glad tidings that Christian women are so earnestly, faithfully and prayerfully proclaiming today, that in Christ there is light and hope; hope for every suffering wife, for heart broken mothers, desolate homes and hungry children, and above hope for the drunkard, be he sunken never so low; even his lost manhood, his self-respect may be restored and he become a new man in Christ Jesus. Oh! that I could whisper in the ear of every drunkard in our fair land that Christ is mighty to save all who come to him. My sisters “we have set before us an open door and no man can shut it.” We cannot ourselves shut it if we would. We stand upon its threshold, between the past and the future. God has placed great possibilities before us. We may remember with comfort that He asks nothing of us that we have not to give, neither requires us to do what we are not capable of doing; but he does demand of us all that we can do, and he will hold us responsible for the good we might do that we leave undone. Oh responsibility! who is able to estimate its significance? When we contemplate its height and depth, its length and breadth, we are led to exclaim, who is sufficient for these things?
In thinking of responsibilities, it has occurred to me that the citizens of our own city have a new but not small responsibility laid upon them in Minnesota Academy. Are we doing what we should to second the efforts of these faithful, hard working teachers, for the good of these young people who are placed under their care. They come to us from their homes, followed no doubt by the earnest prayers of anxious parents that they may be kept from temptation. While these teachers are striving to lead them up to the highest attainments in their preparation for future usefulness, are we seeing to it that an example of high standard of morals is set before them? Are we doing what we can to stay the tide of temptation that is ready to overwhelm them at every step? Friends think of this in your moments of self communings and don’t let the old cry, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” go from your heart. Although it may be an unwelcome conclusion to arrive at, yet just acknowledge to yourself, yes I have a responsibility in this. In these hearts influences good or bad will be held, and I shudder to think what may be. God grant that from this school may go fourth diligent workers, with “earnest hearts and true,” to prepare seed for the fallow ground of our state and nation which is being broken up.
Our country is being stirred from center to circumference, and in spite of differences of opinion and political intrigue that has threatened and still threatens our nation, God will bring deliverance in his own good time and way. It is said that every great evil must be wiped out with blood; God has cleansed our nation once with the richest of American blood. How many hearts were left torn and desolate, how many homes were bereft of loving husbands and tender fathers, and how many bright hopes were buried with noble sons? Yet in all this there was comparative comfort. These died no mean, ignominious death. But how is it with this vast army that is marching with clanging chains and steady tread to their graves year by year? Whence come the recruits for this army? Who will answer me this question? Who hath wrought the ruin of these lives that go out into the blackness and darkness forever, where no hope can reach them? American men and women will you continue to sit with folded hands and let this go on? Will you for the love of ease, for the love of self or money, or popularity or success in business, allow the weapons of warfare to rest in your hands and say I have nothing to do? Will these lost souls cry out from their graves until the wail of despair reaches Heaven and vengeance is poured out upon us?
All the past history of the world teaches us that retribution must and will come, unless we repent and put this evil from us. And who is so ready to forgive as our Father in Heaven? But we may not presume upon that readiness. I assure you that this handful of earnest temperance women represented here tonight, have weighed this matter well. We know what it means to stand upon the threshold of this open door, and we know too, what it means to enter in and take up the work God has placed there before us. It means misunderstandings, misapprehensions, misjudgings and a host of other unpleasant things. In behalf of our W.C.T.U., I wish to say, we are not of those who do not have their rights, neither are we clamoring for the ballot, but in each heart there is a settled purpose to prepare seed for this fallow ground of our nation and state and neighborhoods, every kernel of which shall be baptized with prayer that those who reap shall have an abundant harvest. Then let us work and wait and pray, not forgetting that,
“Prayer is the golden key that can open the wicket of Mercy.
Prayer is the magic sound that saith to faith, so be it.
Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of Omnipotence.”
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of, therefore
let thy voice
Rise like a fountain (for me) night and day, for what are men better than
sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain.
If knowing God they lift not those hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friends!
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by golden chains about the feet of God.”
Source: Mrs. Wilson Holt, “President’s Address,” Minutes of the Second Annual Meeting of the W.C.T.U. of the State of Minnesota 1878 (publisher unknown, 1894).