Study of the King James Bible Part 11

That Quaker influence was far stronger in America than it ever proved to be in England.

George Fox himself visited the colonies and extended its influence. Three great effects are easily traceable. The very presence of the Quakers in the New England colonies, notably in Massachusetts, and the persecutions which they endured, did more to purify the Puritans than any other one influence. One is only loyal to the Puritan character and teaching in declaring that in the manner of the Puritans toward the Quakers they were wrong; they were wrong because they were untrue to their own belief, untrue to their own Bibles, and when the more thoughtful among them found that they were taking the attitude toward the Quakers which they had resented toward themselves, remembering that the Quakers were drawing their teaching from the same Bible as themselves, they were naturally checked. And, while the Quakers in New England suffered greatly, their suffering proved the purification of the Puritans.

It accented and so it removed the narrowness of Puritan practice. Further, the Quaker movement gave to American history William Penn and the whole constitution of Pennsylvania. It was there that a state first lived by the principle which William Penn pronounced: "Any government is free where the people are a party to the laws enacted." So it came about that Independence Hall is on Quaker soil. The Declaration of Independence appeared there, and not on Puritan soil. It may be there was more freedom of thought in Pennsylvania. It may be explained on purely geographical ground, Philadelphia being the most convenient center for the colonies. But it remains significant that not on Cavalier soil in Virginia, not on Dutch soil in New York, not on Puritan soil in Boston, but on Quaker soil in Philadelphia the movement for national independence crystallized around a general principle that "any government is free where the people are a party to the laws enacted," but that no government is free whose people have not a voice. That is not minimizing the power of Puritanism, nor forgetting Fanueil Hall and the Tea Party. It only accents what should be familiar: that Puritanism drew into itself more of the fighting element of Scripture, while the Quaker movement drew into itself more of the uniting, pacifying element of Scripture. The third effect of the Quaker movement is John Greenleaf Whittier, with his gentle but never weak demand that national freedom should not mean independence of other people alone, but the independence of all people within the nation. So that while the Quaker spirit helped the colonies to break loose from foreign control and become a nation, it helped the nation in turn to break loose from internal shackles. The nation stood free within itself as well as free from others. Yet the Quaker movement--and this is the argument--is itself the result of the English Bible, and the Quaker influence is the influence of the English Bible on history.

There is not need for extended word about the great Wesleyan movement in the midst of this period, which has so profoundly affected both English and American history. It has not worked out into such visible political forms.

But any movement that makes for larger spiritual life makes for the strengthening of the entire life of the nation. The mere figures of the early Wesleyan movement are almost appalling. Here was a man, John Wesley, an Oxford scholar, who spent nearly fifty years traveling up and down and back and forth through England on horseback, covering more than two hundred and fifty thousand miles, preaching everywhere more than forty thousand times, writing, translating, editing two hundred works. When death ended his busy life there were in his newly formed brotherhood one hundred and thirty-five thousand members, with five hundred and fifty itinerants who were following his example with incessant preaching and Bible exposition. It was the old Wiclif-Lollard movement over again.

And here was the other Wesley, Charles, teaching England to sing again, teaching the old truths of the Bible in rhyme to many who could not read, so that they became familiar, writing on horseback, in stage-coaches, everywhere, writing with one passion, to help England back to the Bible and its truth. Such activity could not leave the nation unmoved; all its religious life felt it, and its political life from serf to king was deeply affected by it. It is a common saying that the Wesleyan movement saved English liberty from European entanglement. Yet the Wesleyan movement issued from the Bible and led England back to the Bible.

But apart from these wide movements and the great souls who led them, there is time for thought of one typical character on each side of the sea who did not so much make a movement as he proved the point around which a great fluid idea crystallized into strength. Across the sea the character shall be that man whom Carlyle gave back to us out of obloquy and misunderstanding, Oliver Cromwell. Choosing him, we pass other names which crowd into memory, names of men who have served the need of England well-Wilberforce, John Howard, Shaftesbury, Gladstone--who drew their strength from this Book. Yet we choose Cromwell now for argument. On this side it must be that best known, most beloved, most typical of all Americans, Abraham Lincoln.

An English historian has said that the most influential, the most unescapable years in English history are those of the Protectorate. That is a strong saying. They were brief years.

There were many factors in them. Oliver Cromwell was only one, but he was chief of all. He was not chief in the councils which resulted in the beheading of Charles I. on that 30th of January, 1649, though he took part in them.

Increasingly in the movements which led to that event and which followed it he was growing into prominence. After Marston Moor, Prince Rupert named him Ironsides, and his regiment of picked men, picked for their spirit, went always into battle singing psalms, "and were never beaten." As he rode out to the field at Naseby (1645) he knew he faced the flower of the loyalist army, while with him were only untrained men; yet he smiled, as he said afterward, in the "assurance that God would, by things that are not, bring to naught things that are." Then he adds, "God did it." Never did he raise his flag but in the interests of the liberty of the people, and back of every movement of his army there was his confidence in the Bible, which was his mainstay. They offered him the throne; he would not have it. He dissolved the Parliament which had dragged on until the patience of the people was exhausted.

He called another to serve their need. The evening before it met he spent in meditation on the One hundred and third Psalm. The evening before the second Parliament of his Protectorate he brooded on the Eighty-fifth Psalm, and opened the Parliament next day with an exposition of it. The man was saturated with Scripture.

Yes, the times were rude. It was an Old Testament age, and in right Old Testament spirit did Cromwell work. And it seemed that his work failed. There was no one to succeed him, and soon after his death came the Restoration and the return of Charles II., of which we have already spoken, in which occurred that hint of the real sentiment of the English people which a wise man had better have taken.

Yet, recall what actually happened. Misunderstanding the spirit of the English people, which Cromwell had helped to form, but which in turn had made Cromwell possible, the servile courtiers of the false king unearthed the Protector's body, three years buried, hanged it on a gallows in Tyburn for a day, beheaded it, and threw the trunk into a pit. His head they mockingly set on a pinnacle of the Parliament Hall, whence for some weeks it looked over the city which he had served. Then, during a great storm, it came clattering down, only a poor dried skull, and disappeared no one knows where.

But when you stand opposite the great Parliament buildings in London to-day, the most beautiful buildings for their purpose in the world, the buildings where the liberties of the English express themselves year after year, whose is the one statue that finds place within the inclosure, near the spot where that poor skull came rattling down? Not Charles II.--you shall look in vain for him. Not George Monk, who brought back the King--you shall not find him there.

The one statue which England has cared to plant beside its Parliament buildings is that of Oliver Cromwell, its Lord Protector. There he stands, warning kings in the interests of liberty. John Morley makes no ideal of him. He thinks he rather closed the medieval period than opened the modern period; but he will not have Cromwell compared to Frederick the Great, who spoke with a sneer of mankind. Cromwell "belonged to the rarer and nobler type of governing men, who see the golden side, who count faith, piety, hope among the counsels of practical wisdom, and who for political power must ever seek a moral base." That is a rare and noble type of men, whether they govern or not. But no man of that type governs without red blood in his veins; and the iron that made this man's blood run red came from the English Bible.

It is a far cry from Oliver Cromwell to Abraham Lincoln--far in years, far in deeds, far in methods, but not far in spirit. Great men are kindred, generations over. We pass from the Old Testament into the New when we pass from Cromwell to Lincoln; but we still feel the spirit of liberty. From the days of the Puritans, the Quakers and the Dutch, history had been preparing for this time. Benjamin Franklin had done his great work for human liberty; he had summed up his hope for the nation in his memorable address in 1787, when he stood eighty- one years old, before the convention assembled to frame a constitution for the new government. He reminded them that at the beginning of the contest with the British they had had daily prayers in that room in Philadelphia for the Divine protection, and said: "I have lived for a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service."

George Washington sounded a familiar note in his farewell address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.

A volume could not trace all their connection with private and public felicity. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles." Thomas Jefferson, of whom it is sometimes said that he was indifferent to religion, had yet done his great work under inspiration, which he himself acknowledges in his inaugural address, when he speaks of the nation as "enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed, and practised in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensation proves that it results in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter." Greater than Jefferson had appeared John Marshall, greatest of our Chief Justices, like in spirit to that John Marshall Harlan, whose death marked the year which has just closed, of whom his colleagues said that he went to his rest each night with one hand on the Bible and the other on the Constitution of the United States, a description which could almost be transferred to his great predecessor in that court. Moreover, when Lincoln came, Joseph Story, the greatest teacher of law which our country had produced, had only just died from his place on the Supreme Bench, In his Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard (1826), in a brilliant and masterful analysis of "The Characteristics of the Age," he had paid tribute after tribute to the power of religion and the Bible.

He had declared his belief that the religion of the Bible had "established itself in the hearts of men by all which genius could bring to illumine or eloquence to grace its sublime truths." Of the same period with Lincoln was also Webster, who was called the "concordance of the House."

Many of his stately periods and great ideas came from the Bible. Indeed, there is no oratory of our history, which has survived the waste of the years, which does not feel and show the power of the Scriptures. The English Bible has given our finest eloquence its ideas, its ideals, its illustrations, its phrases.

The line is unbroken. And it leads to this tall figure, crowned with a noble head, his face the saddest in American history, who knew Gethsemane in all its paths. The heart of the American people has always been touched by his early years of abject poverty. But there were compensations. He had few books, and they entered his blood and fiber. In his earliest formative years there were six books which he read and re-read. Nicolay and Hay name the Bible first in the list, with Pilgrim's Progress as the fourth.

Mr. Morse calls it a small library, but nourishing, and says that Lincoln absorbed into his own nature all the strong juice of the books.[1] How much he drew from the pages of the Holy Book let any reader of his speeches say. Quotation, reference, illustration crowd each other. The phrases are familiar. The man is full of the Book. And what the man does is part of the work of the Book.

[1] American Statesman Series, Abraham Lincoln, i, 12, 13.

One of his biographers says that there is nothing in the life or work of Lincoln which cannot be explained without reference to any supernatural influence or power. That depends on what is meant by supernatural. There were no miracles, no astounding visions nor experiences.

But there ran into Lincoln's life from his young manhood onward this steady and strong current of ideas and ideals from the Bible. In his second inaugural address he worded the thought that was the deepest horror of the Civil War-- that on both sides of the strife men were reading the same Bible, praying to the same God, and invoking His aid against each other! In that very brief inaugural Mr. Lincoln quotes in full three Bible verses, and makes reference to two others, and the whole address lasted barely four minutes.

There could be no mistaking the solemn importance of the fact to which he referred in the inaugural, the presence on the other side of men who held their Bibles high in regard. "Stonewall"

Jackson was devout beyond most men.

The two books always at his hand were his Bible and the Manual of the Rules of War.

Robert E. Lee was a cultured, Christian gentleman, as were many others with him, while throughout the South were multitudes who loved and reverenced the Bible as fully as could any in the North. As we look back over half a century, this comes out plainly: that so far as the American civil war was a strife about union pure and simple, having one nation or two here in our part of the continent, it was matter of judgment, not of religion. There grew around that question certain others of national honor and obligation, which were not so clear then as now.

But men on opposite sides of the question might read the same Bible without finding authoritative word about it. In so far, however, as the war had at its heart the matter of human slavery, it was possible for men to differ only when one side read the letter of the Bible while the other read its manifest spirit. Written in times when slavery was counted matter of course, its letter dealt with slavery as a fact. It could be read as though it approved slavery. But long before this day men had found its true spirit. England had abolished slavery (1808) under the insistence that it was foreign to all right understanding of God's Word. Lincoln knew its letter well; he cared for its spirit more, and he found his strength not in the familiar saying that God was on his side, but in the more forceful one that he believed himself to be on God's side.

So he became a point around which the great fluid idea crystallized into strength--a point made and sustained by the influence of the Bible, which he knew only in the King James version.

We have spoken of some wide movements and of men around whom they crystallized, finding in them the influence of the Bible. It will be well to note two outstanding traits of the Bible which in English or any other tongue would inevitably tend to strong and favorable influence on the history of men. Those two traits are, first, its essential democracy, and, secondly, its persistent moral appeal.

Here must be recalled that century before the King James version, when by slow filtration the fundamental ideas of the Bible were entering English life. Surely it is beyond words that the Bible made Puritanism, though it was in strong swing when James came to the throne.

Now John Richard Green is well within the fact when he says that "Puritanism may fairly claim to be the first political system which recognized the grandeur of the people as a whole."[1] It, was the magnifying of the people as a whole over against some people as having peculiar rights which marked Puritanism, and which is democracy.

Shakespeare knew nothing of it, and had no influence on the movement for larger democracy.

After we have said our strong word of Shakespeare's powerful influence upon literature it yet must be said that it is difficult to lay finger on one single historical movement except the literary one which Shakespeare even remotely influenced. The Bible, meanwhile, was absolutely creating this movement. Under its influence "the meanest peasant felt himself ennobled as the child of God, the proudest noble recognized a spiritual equality with the meanest saint." That was the inevitable result of a fresh reading of the Bible in every home. It assured each man that he is a son of God, equal in that sonship with all other men. It assured him no man has right to lord it over others, as though his relation to God were peculiar.

The Bible constantly impresses men that this relation to God is the essential one. Everything else is incidental. Granted now a people freshly under the influence of that teaching, you have a large explanation of the movement which followed the issuance of this version.

[1] Short History of the English People, chap. vii, sec. vii.

James opened his first parliament (1604) with a speech claiming divine right, a doctrine which had really been raised to meet the claim of the right of the pope to depose kings. James argued that the state of monarchy is the supremest thing on earth, for kings are not only God's lieutenants on earth and set upon God's throne, but even by God Himself are called gods. (He never found that in the Genevan version or its notes!) As to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so it is sedition in subjects to dispute what the king may do in the height of his power. "I will not be content that my power be disputed on." The House of Commons sat by his grace and not of any right.

Set that idea of James over against the idea which the Bible was constantly developing in the mind of the people, and you see why Trevelyan says that the Bible brought in democracy, and why he thinks, as we have already seen, that the greatest contribution England has made to government is its treatment of the Stuarts, when it transferred sovereignty from the king to Parliament. Among the men who listened to that kind of teaching were Eliot, Hampden, Pym, all Puritans under the spell of the Bible.

But the strife grew larger than a merely Puritan one. The people themselves were strongly feeling their rights. "To the devout Englishman, much as he might love his prayer-book and hate the dissenters, the core of religion was the life of family prayer and Bible study, which the Puritans had for a hundred years struggled not in vain to make the custom of the land." It was this spirit which James met.

We have already thought sufficiently of the events which actually followed. The final rupture of Charles I. with parliamentary institutions was due to the religious situation. There were many Bible-reading families, learning their own rights, while kings and favorites were plotting war. Laud and the bishops forbade non-conforming gatherings, but they could not prevent a man's gathering his household about him while he read the great stories of the Bible, in which no king ruled when he had ceased to advance his kingdom, in which each man was shut up to God in the most vital things of his life. The discussion of the time grew keen about predestination and free-will. One meant that only God had power; the other meant that men, and if men, then specially kings, might control other men if only they could. Not fully, but vaguely, the crowd understood. Very fully, and not vaguely, the leaders understood. Predestination and Parliament became a cry. That is, control lifted out of the hands of the free-will of some monarch into the hands of a sovereign God to whom every man had the same access that any other man had. Laud decreed that all such discussion should cease. He revived an old decree that no book could be printed without consent of an archbishop or the Bishop of London. So the books became secret and more virulent each year. The civil war (1642-46) between Charles and Parliament was a war of ideas. It is sometimes called a war of religion, not quite fairly. It was due to the religious situation, but actually it was for the liberties of the people against the power of the king. And that question rooted far down in another regarding the rights of men to be free in their religious life. Charles struck his coin at Oxford with the Latin inscription: "The Protestant religion; the laws of England; the liberties of Parliament." But he struck it too late. He had been trifling with the freedom of the people, and they had learned from their fireside Bibles and from their pulpits that no man may command another in his relation to God. It was long after that Burns described "The Cottar's Saturday Night"; but he was only describing a condition which was already in vogue, and which was having tremendous influence in England as well as in Scotland:

"The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face, They, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace, The big ha' Bible, ance his father's pride: His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside, His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare; Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide, He wales a portion with judicious care, And 'Let us worship God!' he says, with solemn air."

Under such guidance as this the people of England, Puritans and others, relaxed the power of the Stuarts and became a democracy. For democracy is not a form of government. It can exist under monarchy, provided the monarchy is a convenience of the will of the people, as it is in England. It can exist under institutions like our own, provided they also are held as a convenience of the people. This was no rebellion against some form of monarchy. It was simply a claim of every man to have his rights before God. Under the Parliament of eighteen years duration, the Independensts, Presbyterians, and all other non-conforming bodies suffered as heavily as under James and Charles, yet they did not flee the land. Their battle was really won.

They believed the time would come when they as part of "the people" who now governed should assert themselves. If they were persecuted, it was under a government where yet they might hope for their rights. Fleeing from England in 1620 was heroism; fleeing in 1640 would have been cowardly. It is impossible to calculate what was the revelation to the readers of the English Bible of their rights.

Let Trevelyan tell the story: "While other literary movements, however noble in quality, affect only a few, the study of the Bible was becoming the national education. Recommended by the king, translated by the Bishops, yet in chief request with the Puritans, without the rivalry of books and newspapers, the Bible told to the unscholarly the story of another age and race, not in bald generalization and doctrinal harangue, but with such wealth of simple narrative and lyrical force that each man recognized his own dim strivings after a new spirit, written clear in words two thousand years old. A deep and splendid effect was wrought by the monopoly of this Book as the sole reading of common households, in an age when men's minds were instinct with natural poetry and open to receive the light of imagination. A new religion arose, of which the mythus was the Bible stories and the pervading spirit the direct relations of man with God, exemplified in the human life. And while imagination was kindled, the intellect was freed by this private study of the Bible. For its private study involved its private interpretation.

Each reader, even if a Churchman, became in some sort a church to himself. Hence the hundred sects and thousand doctrines that astonished foreigners and opened England's strange path to intellectual liberty. The Bible cultivated here, more than in any other land, the growth of intellectual thought and practice."[1]

[1] England under the Stuarts.

All that has seemed to refer only to England, but the same essential democracy of the Bible came to America and founded the new nation.

It was a handful of Puritans turned Pilgrims who set out in the Mayflower to give their Bible ideas free field. In a dozen years (1628-40), under Laud's persecution, twenty thousand Englishmen fled to join those Pilgrims. And how much turned on that! Suppose it had not happened.

Then the French of the North and the cavaliers of Virginia, with the Spanish of the South, would have had only the Dutch between them. And of the four, only the Dutch had free access to the Bible. The new land would not have been English. It is an English writer who says that North America is now preparing the future of the world, and English speech is the mold in which the folk of all the world are being poured for their final shaping.[1] It is the democracy of the Bible which is the fundamental democracy of America, in which every man has it accented to him that he is so much a child of God that his rights are inalienable. They cover life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And though we have held that principle of democracy inconsistently at times, and have paid a terrible price for our inconsistency in the past, and may pay it in the future again, it is still true that the fundamental democracy of our American life is only that essential democracy of the Bible, where every man is made the equal of his fellow by being lifted into the same relation with Almighty God.

[1] Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts, p. 174.

The Bible makes its moral appeal on the same basis. If a man is a child of God, then he is shut up to duties which cannot be avoided.

Some one else may tell a man his duty in a true monarchy. In a democracy each man stands alone at the most solemn point of his duty.

There is no safe democracry where men refuse to stand alone there. In Jefferson's great speech, replying to the forebodings of Patrick Henry, he insisted that if men were not competent to govern themselves they were not competent to govern other people. The first duty of any man is to take his independent place before God.

Democracy is the social privilege that grows out of the meeting of these personal obligations.

Several facts strengthen this persistent moral appeal. For one thing, the Book is absolutely fair to humanity. It leaves out no line or wrinkle; but it adds none. The men with whom it deals are typical men. The facts it presents are typical facts. There are books which flatter men, make them out all good, prattle on about the essential goodness of humanity, while men who know themselves (and these are the only ones who do things) know that the story is not true. On the other hand, there are books which are depressing. Their pigments are all black.

They move from the dignity of Schopenhauer's pessimism to the bedlam of Nietzsche's contempt for life and goodness. But here, also, the sane common sense of humanity comes to the rescue.

The picture is not true if it is all white or all black. The Bible is absolutely fair to humanity.

It moves within the circle of man's experience; and, while it deals with men, it results in a treatment of man.

That is how it comes about that the Bible inspires men, and puts them at their best. No moral appeal can be successful if it fails to reach the better part of a man, and lays hold on him there. Just that it did for the English people.

"No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than passed over England during the years that parted the middle of the reign of Elizabeth from the meeting of the Long Parliament.

England became the people of a Book, and that Book was the Bible."[1]

Chapter end

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