Shutter: The Increasing Purpose
Compiled by John Addington
Best Sermons 1926
THE INCREASING PURPOSE
An Ohioan by birth, educated at the University of Wooster and the Baptist Seminary of Chicago, Dr. Shutter was ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1881. Five years later he changed his views and became a Universalist, serving first as assistant and then as pastor of the Church of the Redeemer, in Minneapolis, where he has labored for forty years—a conservative in politics, a liberal in theology, one of the great citizens of his city.
Twice president of the National Convention of his Church, Dr. Shutter has been a sagacious leader in social, civic, and humane enterprises. Yet he has found time to write many books, among them the Wit and Wisdom of the Bible, Justice and Mercy, Applied Evolution—which attracted the attention of John Fiske—and the Life of James Harvey Tuttle, his predecessor. When a preacher serves one Church for forty years, and his anniversary is celebrated by the whole city, it bespeaks extraordinary qualities of personality and leadership.
In the sermon here following we find the basis of his faith, founded in the nature of God and the order of the universe—rational, righteous, beneficent—moving to spiritual ends and the final victory of a Love that hath in its keeping the secret of unknown redemptions.
THE INCREASING PURPOSE
By MARION D. SHUTTER, D.D.
CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER, MINNEAPOLIS
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Matthew 6:10.
Henry Adams belonged to the great Massachusetts family of that name, and his book entitled The Education of Henry Adams is the record of the travels and reflections of a life-time. His brilliant mind seems to have arrived at no settled convictions concerning life or its meaning, nor did he find any meaning in history. In Rome, more than once, he sat at sunset upon the steps of the church where Gibbon had mused on the fall of Empire—sat and reflected, and concluded nothing. Rome, to him, “was a bewildering complex of ideas, experiments, ambitions, energies. Without her, the Western world was pointless and fragmentary; she gave heart and unity to it all; yet Gibbon might have gone on for the whole century sitting among the ruins of the Capitol, and no one would have passed capable of telling him what it meant. Perhaps it meant nothing.” Has not the same doubt often arisen in our own minds concerning the history of our planet? Often have we despairingly asked in these recent years, “What does it all mean?”
I do not wonder that men despair, that their hearts fail them, feeling that in the highest things the world is totally bankrupt. Brooks Adams, another member of that distinguished family, in his preface to the new edition of The Emancipation of Massachusetts, says: “Each day I live I am less able to withstand the suspicion that the universe, far from being an expression of law originating in a single primary cause, is a chaos which admits of reaching no equilibrium, and with which man is doomed eternally and hopelessly to contend.” What can you make of it? What can one say? Only this: History is a dark and horrible puzzle, without the thought of intelligence and purpose, without the thought of God and His universal Fatherhood. Put that into it, and we may sometime find our way to solid footing. Two friends were recently conversing about the great tragedy. “I do not see how I can go on living,” said one; “it seems as if I had lost God out of the world!” “Strange,” answered the other, “it seems to me as if I had just found Him.”
This is the time to hold fast our faith in the Eternal Goodness and the Eternal Justice. Is truth
… forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne?
Remember, in the long last, by a sure outworking of laws and events, as faith and fact alike attest:
That scaffold rules the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.
This is the thought I am bringing you today. We are passing through a wild and stormy period, which threatens the foundations of our faith in all that is best. It will make a great difference to all of us, whether we are driven to the assumption that everything sprang from chance and ends in chaos, or whether we go forward with the belief that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, we are living in a sane and reasonable universe and one that is capable of justification at last.
After all, there is something that holds society together and keeps it moving on, and mainly in the right direction. Beneath the surface, three tendencies may be discerned in history which ought to reinforce this faith; retribution, righteousness, and love. These tendencies can only be explained by the existence behind them of a Power that is just and wise and good; and that has planned the universe for the triumph of justice and wisdom and goodness.
1. Retribution. The first of these is the tendency to retribution. The laws of retribution are woven into the processes of nature and into the texture of society. Let us see how they work. Evil often defeats itself; like Macbeth’s vaulting ambition, “it o’erleaps itself and comes down on the other side.” One of the most notable examples in our own country was the attempt in the days before the Civil War to fasten a slave constitution upon Kansas, to impose an institution of darkness upon a free territory. The up-piled iniquities fell, at last, by their own awful weight upon the inventors and crushed them. The architect of every house of lies proves in the end to have been a fool—in spite of all his perverted ingenuity. His timbers are rotten and his ruin is sure. The late Andrew D. White once said of his great teacher, Benjamin Stillman: “He had faith in truth as truth; faith that there is a power in the universe good enough to make truth-telling effective.” Falsehood and intrigue defeat themselves, and “frightfulness” itself is a two-edged sword, that cuts equally him who wields it with him against whom it is lifted.
By a series of crimes and atrocities, till then unparalleled, the Spaniard sought to crush political and religious freedom in the Netherlands. Massacre succeeded massacre; in the smoldering embers of one conflagration fresh torches were kindled against the gates of Leyden. The cruelties of Spain reacted at last to the overthrow of her power in the Netherlands and to the erection on her throne of the first great bulwark of constitutional freedom!
The sinking of the Lusitania, by bringing America into the conflict, decided the World War, and drove its chief projector into exile. One element of the safety of society lies in the final insanity of its enemies—that madness which the gods have marked for destruction. The good has but one enemy, the evil; while evil has two enemies, the good and itself. Evil is often overruled in such a way as to minister to the good. The wrath, the folly, the littleness, the meanness, of men is often made to praise God and to work for human welfare. Lincoln defined statesmanship as using individual meanness for the public good. Satan himself is often harnessed to the chariots of Jehovah!
It is related that one of the dearest wishes of Dom Pedro, once Emperor of Brazil, was a great hospital at Rio; but the people who had the means to build it could not be induced to subscribe. An idea came to him one day that solved his problem. He granted life-peerages to all who would make large contributions to his hospital. These patents were not hereditary, and if the children wished to inherit their father’s title, they had to pay for it again. Brazil became peopled with nobles, and the hospital was erected on the grandest scale. When it was completed, the Emperor placed this inscription over the gates: “Human Vanity to Human Misery.”
Let us go farther back. We have just been celebrating “Columbus Day.” What made Columbus? The closing of the last route between Europe and the East by the fall of Constantinople. The Turk drove Columbus to find a western route to India. The Turk could not foresee that, under the overruling of that inscrutable power which makes the blunders of fools and the wrath of men and the fury of fanatics all to praise Him, the problem his sword had marked out for Europe would be gloriously solved. He could not see that, as a result of his cruel ignorance, intelligence would become universal; that, as a result of his stupid oppressions, freedom would some day fill the world! Where evil cannot be made the drudge and slave of good, it is—in the long run—utterly overthrown. The track of time is strewn with dead iniquities, with slaveries, inquisitions, tyrannies. Lowell sings of the destinies:
Patient are they as the insects that build islands in the deep;
They hurl not the bolted thunder, but their silent way they keep;
Where they have been, that we know; where empires towered that were not just,
Lo! the skulking wild-fox scratches in a little heap of dust!
The cities of the past that sit today in weeds of mourning and ashes of desolation tell us through the owls that hoot in their priestless temples, the wild beasts that bound in their deserted palaces, or the waves that roll over their buried splendor: “This is the result of world-ambitions we tried to realize by trampling on the rights and liberties of men!” The most tragic figure in the world today is the ruler who tried to grasp the scepter of the world and lost the one he had—now despised, rejected, and abhorred!
2. Righteousness. The second of these tendencies is the tendency to righteousness. I know the cruelties, the martyrdoms, the outrages, the crucifixions and worse; but, in spite of all, there is an upward trend in all human history. In all that is good and true and just, there are signs of increasing life and power. If this were not true, if there were not these counteracting forces, ages ago the world would have rotted out.
The tendency to righteousness is shown by the constant elevation of moral standards. A Greek or Roman of the early Christian centuries would not know himself were he to come into this modern world, even with its hundred smoldering battlefields. He would not understand the revolutionized conditions. He would find a new sense of the sanctity of human life—a sense not destroyed, but rather enhanced, by these years of bloodshed. He would discover that the universal slavery which he knew had vanished before the sentiment of universal brotherhood. He would find that the position of woman had changed. He would find that crimes and vices condoned and tolerated two thousand years ago, are today condemned and reprobated. Atrocities and outrages which then would have been accepted as mere incidents of war, today fill the world with horror and loathing. He would find that neither genius nor wealth nor power, but character and service determine position in the modern world. Thus have moral standards risen.
The extent to which these standards have risen can hardly be realized, and is obscured by the discussions going on about “profit” and “service.” No legitimate business can exist today except by the service it renders; and no business would be undertaken if it did not yield some degree of profit. The profit may be too great and the service too small; but that is a matter for adjustment and does not affect the principle. No enterprise would be started, if it did not promise to pay; but no enterprise can exist, after it has ceased to serve. The standard is service.
The tendency to righteousness is also illustrated in the history of legislation. From the very beginnings of human society, the rights of men have been increasingly safeguarded by laws. Those who have, at times, been beyond the pale of law—the slave, the common laborer, woman—have been included. Their interests have not been committed to chance nor left to the whim of a ruler; they have been embodied in written statutes. More laws have been passed in behalf of labor in recent years than for any other object. The courts are open. Citizens have rights as against the state itself. This fact stands clearly out. Within our own time, slaves have been made citizens and women have been enfranchised. And not only is the broadening and security of rights apparent, but these have developed those agencies of education and religion which train and fit men and women, not only for the enjoyment of rights, but also for the performance of duties. Every one has the right of free speech; but he must accept the responsibility that goes with it. When one wants to know how the world has progressed from the crudities and barbarities of old customs, let him study the history of legislation. There is an important sense in which the increase of crime is itself an evidence of advancing civilization. Offenses which once were deemed personal are seen to have a social significance and are sooner or later prohibited by law. They thus become crimes or misdemeanors. The Prohibition amendment was an important step in human progress; but for the time it fills the courts with a new set of misdemeanors and crimes. Its moral value is measured by the resistance it encounters.
And this leads to the other illustration of our point. The tendency to righteousness is shown in the extension of liberty. Gradually and in spite of all defeats, the tendency of the ages has been towards greater freedom for all men. Political bondage, from time to time, is overthrown; free institutions advance. The most tremendous impulse that history knows, has just been given to the cause of human liberty. Let us not think alone of the waste and the slaughter, not alone of the burdens of taxation under which we groan—most of which were piled up by blundering and dishonest civilians and not by the army—but let us ask whether it is not worth something to pay taxes to our own government rather than tribute to a conqueror. That was our choice; and we kept faith with freedom! We are still paying pensions and the interest on bonds for the Civil War. Would you be rid of these taxes and see slavery reëstablished? The Spanish War added other burdens. Would you throw them off and plant again the power of Spain in Cuba? Think of this side of the question. This is no time to lose confidence in the eternal purpose. Let us thank God that we are alive and that we have been permitted to witness the falling of thrones and the gathering of new forces. The law of sacrifice for the promotion of righteousness runs through all human history. It was said of the Great Master that he should see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied—not here, but hereafter. Through every tragedy runs the law of sacrifice that links it to Calvary; and we may well believe of our sons who fell that, gathered with their great Exemplar, they see that liberty lives and are satisfied. And we who survive will inscribe their names on the walls of our new cathedral where they will live in immortality and glory—while the names of those who “gave aid and comfort to the enemy,” who tried to obstruct and hinder the government in the prosecution of its high purpose, who prolonged the carnage and multiplied its victims, will rot in infamy and be lost in oblivion!
There is, therefore, a fixed principle that works for righteousness. True faith is belief in its ultimate triumph. Real infidelity means settling down to the conviction that evil is going to prevail, that it is stronger than good. That is atheism. To believe in God, is to believe in good. Have faith that righteousness is dear to God and that, in spite of all seeming contradictions, it will eternally win! But it must have your coöperation and mine. It cannot win without.
Tho’ the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis
Truth alone is strong;
And, albeit she wander outcast now,
I see around her throng,
Troops of beautiful, strong angels,
To enshield her from all wrong.
But we must be found among those guardian angels, defenders of truth, the vanguard of her chariot’s progress!
3. Love. The third of these tendencies in history is the tendency of love. If there is a tendency to retribution and to righteousness, there is also a tendency to humanity and gentleness and kindness. There is a power that makes for benevolence as well as for goodness. At the time when this late war broke out, the humanities had gained larger practical recognition than ever before. The evils in society were being investigated and remedied—the condition of the poor, the claims of the working population, the discipline and sanitation of prisons, the disabilities of women, the pressure upon children, and a thousand things which manifested a broader and deeper spirit of humanity.
For example, there has been going on for years a movement of which no critic of society ever utters a word—a movement, inaugurated by employers themselves, in behalf of better wages, conditions, treatment of labor, and even for a measure of participation in the management. This had been going on before the war, and will not be retarded by its close. Read the book by Ida Tarbell, New Ideals in Business; follow the course of events since, and see how hundreds and thousands of enterprises have built new workshops, equipped them with safety devices, and let in the sun and the air that health might prevail; how they have provided homes for their workmen; established benefits and pensions; introduced education for those who had been denied it; and are making stockholders of labor.
Thousands of men are striving, with their best light, to introduce Christianity into their business, and you and I are not helping them by shouting “greed” into their ears. The present industrial order is not bankrupt. Some of the schemes proposed as improvements are bankrupt. Russia appeals to what she has contemptuously termed the “capitalist” nations, to save her from the ruin and misery of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—her experiment in applied Marxian Socialism. The present industrial order is not bankrupt; it is adapting itself to changing conditions, and this is the very essence of life. Civilization and Christianity are not bankrupt. They are all purging themselves and developing new power. Individualism is not lost and ought not to be lost; but the new watch-words are coöperation and harmony. Nor will this movement and others be retarded; rather will they be quickened. Some one says in the September North American: “We radicals always seem to aim for the rocks; the way to end a voyage profitably, we think, is to sink the boat. … So with this society of ours. … Somehow it goes; and we must spend more time sailing it instead of damning it.” Nor is our representative government bankrupt. We are Americans who believe in our founders, our constitution, our courts, and our destiny. If our constitution needs changing, we can amend it. We shall never tear it to pieces and scatter it to the winds.
Often of late we have heard it charged that America is responsible for present world-conditions, because after the war she said: “I’ll have nothing to do with you!” America never said that. America refused to merge her nationality into a vague internationalism; but she has never repudiated her international duties. She has always met her responsibilities to the world and always will; and all the better by refusing foreign entanglements. She took a mighty step in the call of her President for a conference on limitation of armaments in the hope of removing the fears and misunderstandings upon which armaments are based. Remove the causes of future wars, and armaments will disappear. Otherwise the weight of armaments will only grow heavier upon the shoulders of mankind! We are likely to go farther, if we take the journey step by step. Slavery was not abolished by the Abolitionists. They did something to create public sentiment, but they were willing to wreck the Union. Slavery was abolished by a party that set out to “limit” it. Armaments may at last be abolished in the same way.
So things will go on. Mr. Wells, in his Outline of History, notes the growth of good-will among men from the beginning. We can see today how the outrages and brutalities of war have stimulated anew the heart-beats of sympathy. Over every battlefield blazes the Red Cross of mercy; the hand of help reaches across the sea. Some one has said: “Man made the war, but God put the Red Cross nurse into it.” Not only shall righteousness triumph, it shall be crowned with a diadem of love. “This world is God’s world after all!” That is what I want you to see and to believe. There never was a time when that faith was needed more than now, as the processes of rebuilding the world go on.
We ask and ask again, “What does it all mean? Is there any outcome? Is there any gain to mankind?” I want you to feel that there is such gain, that history confirms it. We have witnessed a breaking up among the nations such as never has occurred since the old Roman empire went to pieces. That crash seemed, at the time, the end of all things. But out of the chaos came modern Europe. Chaos never lasts—it is the furnace in which a new order is fashioned. Rarely does any destructive or disintegrating process reach its logical conclusion. It is always met by counteracting forces. There is no Merrimac without its Monitor.
I want you to feel that the background against which our lives are cast is one of hope and progress. I want you to feel that the principles of our Church are one with the processes of evolution, the laws of society, and the development of history. Over all is the Universal Fatherhood of God, working through nature up to man; then taking the first crude semblance of man, and through countless centuries reducing the jaw and rounding the dome of the brain, and paralleling the struggle for existence with the struggle for the existence of others. I want you to see that our principle of “just retribution” is woven into the texture of society, and demonstrated in the events of history. I want you to see how righteousness and love are working towards the final harmony with God. Let us work, then, as never before. The Church is not bankrupt. We are coöperating with the beneficent forces that have shaped the course of events from the beginning until now, and we must work with them in all the years to come. With this background and with these forces, we shall be able to accept any challenge that the age or the universe may fling before our feet! Our faith rests upon
Truths which wake
To perish never:
And neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,
Nor man nor boy,
Nor aught that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy.