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Tract on the Primary Reform

James Dodson


‘Out of the HEART of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.’ (Mark 7:21,22.) The list of evils here mentioned embraces directly or indirectly all the abominations against which the various Reform Societies are laboring. As these evils have their common centre in the heart, it is manifest that the efforts of all classes of reformers will be thoroughly successful only when they shall be directed effectually toward that centre. The reform of the heart must precede all sound reforms of externals. It follows then that among all the moral enterprises of the day, that cause which aims directly at the renovation of the heart should be the centre around which all specific reforms should range themselves, and to the furtherance of which all their forces should converge. We submit it to the candor of all thinking laborers in the field of philanthropy, whether the gospel of salvation from sin is not the true agency of heart reform; and whether it ought not therefore to be acknowledged and sustained by Temperance men, Abolitionists, Moral Reformers, Peace-men, Physiologists, Associationists, and all other combatants of specific evils, as the central and ascendant cause.

It is manifest that Temperance can never win a complete and permanent victory in the present state of human nature. If it gains ‘three feet upward every day,’ it slips back at least ‘two feet every night.’ Millions sign the pledge, but hardly thousands or even hundreds keep it.—Again and again have the zealous Temperance men in all our towns been driven to the secret conviction, if not the open acknowledgment, that an Anti-Lying Society is needed as the antecedent and basis of the Temperance Society. The unregenerate heart is in very deed, ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.’ How can the fidelity and truthfulness necessary to the efficacy of the Temperance pledge, be expected from it? Popular religion has no power to mend the case, for it declares that all hearts, regenerate and unregenerate, are ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked;’ and there it leaves us, neither presenting or allowing any hope of better hearts in this world. The 7th chapter of Romans is the only standard of experience licensed by the clergy, and that is the very standard of drunkards and pledge-breakers. We say then with all assurance, that the Temperance cause has no permanent vitality, and, so long as moral fidelity shall be essential to its success, never can have, until an effectual medicine shall be found for the diseased hearts of the people; and this medicine can only be found in that gospel which substitutes for the moral impotence of the 7th of Romans, salvation from all sin, now and for ever.

The same deficiency of moral basis is observable in the working of all those reforms which, like Temperance, have for their object the abolition ofpersonal vices. The abandonment of false dietetic habits, lasciviousness, and all other forms of sensuality, requires an energy of will which the mass of the people have not, and never will have, under the 7th of Romans administration. Moral Reformers and Physiologists may run to and fro, andknowledge of the ‘natural laws’ may be increased ad infinitum, and still there will be no radical and lasting reform—nothing but the fitful and backsliding righteousness of the revival system, till men get power to will healthily as well as to see clearly. That power belongs only to a sound heart;and soundness of heart comes only by that grace which saves from all sin.

So the social reforms, of which Abolitionism is the most prominent representative, sadly need soundness of heart to work with, and to work upon. We fully believe that the mass of the people in this country are convinced that American slavery is a sin against God and man. ‘But (says a church-trained conscience) what then? Sin is not a very dreadful affair. Every body sins. The church and clergy sin. The best of men sin in thought, word and deed, continually. Is sin to be turned out of the world? Certainly not till it is turned out of the pulpit, the church, and other respectable places. It is as much the privilege of nations to sin, as of individuals—and more, if any thing.’ What does it avail to expound the wrongfulness of slavery to consciences that think in this way, and to wills that are paralyzed by such thinking? Let it be understood that sin is to be actually turned out of the world,—and let Abolitionists begin the business in themselves and work at it till they have established in the heart of the nation a new moral standard, by which all sin shall be branded with infamy and set apart for the curse of heaven, and slavery will soon be at the mercy of their arrows, stripped of its harness.

The false religions of the country frustrate Abolitionism not only by filling the spiritual atmosphere with the smoke of the 7th chapter of Romans, but by direct opposition. The Abolitionists say themselves that the churches are the chief bulwarks of slavery—the strongest barrier which their cause has to encounter.—To them therefore the most vital question is, How are the churches to be overthrown? We answer confidently,—Not by mere direct competition or assault, but by bringing forth the true religion against them. The religious department of human nature is the very ‘sanctuary of strength.’ The instincts of men demand a religion with more energy than they demand any thing else. Mere moral and benevolent enterprises can never satisfy this demand, and therefore they never can compete successfully with the religious systems which have possession of the market. When Abolitionists make a direct issue with the churches, and the abstract question whether philanthropy or religion should have the precedence, is presented to the people, the churches have the advantage, because all true instinct decides that they are in the right. Religion is rightfully the centre, and not the satellite of philanthropy. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Love is the child of faith. Veneration is in truth, as it is in the brain, higher than benevolence. So the mere pulling-down system will never avail against the churches. Men will instinctively, and we might say reasonably, cling to a very corrupt religion, rather than have no religion at all. The true policy then, as well as the duty of Abolitionists, is to arm themselves for conflict with the churches by receiving true religion to their hearts and giving it the avowed ascendancy over all their movements. Then the issue will be, not between false religion and a secondary enterprise of benevolence or no religion at all, but between false religion and true religion. Let the gospel of holiness with all its Bible-armor be brought into the field to lead the van of the Anti-slavery host, and their lingering contest with the churches will seen be decided.

It is possible that slavery will soon be over-thrown in this country,—but not by moral influences. Political jealousy is eyeing it fiercely, and meditating its destruction. If it perishes by the stroke of political and physical power, what real gain, we may ask, will accrue to philanthropy? We will say nothing about the possible convulsions and horrors of the catastrophe; but if slavery’s fountain, the selfish heart, is not changed, not a tittle of the inner store of human cruelty will be annihilated. Oppression in some other form, equivalent to slavery, will take its place. So long as the issues of the world’s heart are ‘murder, theft, covetousness,’ the strong will surely enslave the weak, in fact, if not in form. Can true philanthropists content themselves with labors which only shift the mode, but touch not the vitality of social evil? If Abolitionists desire the actual and permanent triumph of their principle, they must, first of all, set the battle in array against the devil’s slavery;—‘EMANCIPATION FROM ALL SIN’ must be their watchword. Evil will never begin to die at the root until it is exposed to the heart, purging power of the gospel of holiness. Then, and not till then, that true reform which has no draw-back will be begun.

Association puts forward the most confident and plausible pretension to the honor of being the all comprehensive, and therefore primary reform. But it confesses that good men are essential as its antecedents; and this amounts to a confession that the reform which makes good men must go before it. It is related that a vagrant once called at a house by the wayside, and told the people that he was not a beggar, but he merely wanted the loan of a kettle to make some ‘stone soup’ for his dinner. They granted his request, and the more readily because they were curious to learn the method of making a soup that cost nothing. He gathered a few stones, and putting water to them, hung them over the fire. As the people watched the boiling of the pot, he observed in a careless way that a little salt, if it was at hand, would improve the soup somewhat. Accordingly they put in some salt. After a while, he suggested that a handful or two of flour would not be amiss. So a good thickening of flour was added. Finally he said, if they had any spare meat-bones about, it would he well enough to put them in; not that they were necessary at all, but they would improve the flavor. The people wishing to give the experiment every advantage, put in a number of rich bones; and when at last they were allowed. to taste of the ‘stone soup,’ to their astonishment they found it excellent! We think of this story when we hear Associationists vaunting the all-redeeming power of their system, and yet asking for good men to begin with. If they can find means to put the salt of brotherly love, the flour of industrious and enterprising habits, and the meat-bones of wealth and good morals into their pot, we have no doubt that their ‘stone soup’ will be very good.

It is too evident to need demonstration that religious unity must be the basis of all other valuable and permanent unities. Fourierists talk much about the necessity of ‘congeniality’ in those who attempt Association. But what congeniality can there be without unity of religious faith? Is not religion pre-eminently an ‘affair of the heart’? When two young persons of different and hostile religious sentiments associate for matrimonial life, do not all sagacious friends fear that their congeniality will prove to be only ‘skin deep’? Experience has already proved that all the advantages and attractions of Association are not able to draw its votaries out of their respective religious orbits, or to prevent the collisions incident to a system which brings independent spheres so near that their orbits constantly cross each other. In the account of the Sodus Bay Association which the reader will find on our third page, the editor of the Phalanx says—‘Religious differences, pressed in an intolerant manner on both sides, had at the time of our visit produced entire uncertainty as to future operations, and carried disorder to its height.’ If Fourier expected to introduce harmony into human society without first establishing religious unity, we are bold to say that he was a superficial philosopher, ignorant of human nature, and of the true doctrine of unity.

Association can escape the evils resulting from religious differences, only in one of two ways. It must either select for its experiments none but those who have no heart-religion, and care nothing about it, or it must address itself to the task of developing a religion which shall prove itself strong enough to supersede all others and reconcile all honest hearts. The former of these ways is the shortest and easiest, and seems to suit the hasty genius of the Fourier enthusiasm best. But we are sure that the latter will be found the safest and most economical in the long run. We regard the establishment of religious unity as entirely feasible. Let the gospel of holiness do its work in the heart, and sin, the radical cause of all religious differences, will be taken away. Let men truly join themselves to the Lord, and they will have one spirit; and unity of spirit will lead to unity of faith.

We are confident that reformers generally feel the want of what the Fourierists call ‘organization of industry’—we mean the organization of the different branches of reform. If unity of purpose and harmonious distribution into series and groups is desirable in physical labor, how much more is it to be desired in the higher moral movements which are in progress. But unity implies a central and presiding power.—Accordingly the classes that are interested in the various reforms have long been instinctively groping about for some generic principle back of them all, and combining the strength of all. One cause after another has been proclaimed by its more ardent advocates the rightful centre of unity. But the world of reform is yet ‘a chaos without form and void.’ The king-bee has not been found, and the swarm is flying to and fro without concert or aim. The considerations which have been presented in the preceding survey of the reform-field, embolden us to nominate the gospel of salvation from sin as a candidate for the primacy, That gospel and the reform-spirit were born and bred side by side. Were they not made for each other? Was not the match between the religion of the one and the morality of the other made in heaven? We believe assuredly that ‘the stone which the builders have rejected, will yet be the head of the corner.’