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THE SIXTEENTH ANNUAL

SERMON.

Preached at the Church of The Incarnation, on Sunday, December 19, 1915, by the Reverend Howard C. Robbins.

THE SPIRIT OF NEW ENGLAND.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."-Hebrews xi, 8.

The migration which brought the Pilgrim Fathers to New England has often been compared with that which brought the father of the faithful into Canaan, and the comparison may serve as a point of departure for a sermon of which the spirit of New England is the theme. Someone has wittily observed that Boston is not a place but a state of mind. The gibe is in good nature, and we who are of New England extraction do not resent it. New England is more to us than a beloved and familiar locality. We love her rocks and rills. We are glad of any pretext to revisit them. Wearying under the strain of city life, we exclaim at times, paraphrasing Jeremiah, "Oh, that I had in the woods of Maine a lodging place of wayfaring men!" But scenery does not account for the spell cast by New England over the feet of her children. Other localities have even greater natural attractions: mountains piled up as though by Titans, rivers flowing in imperial beauty, and scenery that well might summon travelers home from Norway or

from Switzerland. The charm of New England is of a different order. The spell lies in suggestion, in association, in beauty of a spiritual sort. We remember the tribute to the Swiss cantons rendered by an English poet:

These are they "beside whose forest-hidden fountains

Sleeps Freedom armed."

Freedom has slept lightly beside the fountains of New England, ready to be aroused by the touch of her Adams, her Channing, her Ethan Allen, her Wendell Phillips, and to go forth upon the wings of their words. It is our congenial task to inquire into the secret of her presence, to trace if possible the sequences by which the spirit of New England, at one time intolerant and even tyrannical, has become identified in all men's minds with thoughts of liberty.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed." Abraham went forth by faith. At the beginning of the adventure in which Israel had historic origin stood the belief, the idealism, of Israel's traditional progenitor, who had been promised a land and a seed. The distinctive thing in this migration is its motive. The unique interest which is attached to it is that it was not due to chance, or to lust of territory, or to shortage of food, or to pressure of population, or to political upheaval and reconstruction, but to belief. In the remote past an obscure Semitic chieftain heard in his conscience the summons to go forth, to find a place where he and his descendants could have freedom of worship not possible at home; "soul freedom," as Roger Williams used to say. So by faith the man became the founder of a nation, and the prototype of all believers in the one true God.

If we believe that election did not end with the Hebrews, and that inspiration did not cease with their Scriptures, that the providence of God is active still, and his Spirit ever animating the souls of dauntless men, then it is natural for us to liken our New England Forefathers to Abraham, and to compare their exodus with his. The seventeenth century

was an age of migrations. Men were beginning to realize and to develop by colonization the vast and romantic opportunities opened to them by previous voyages of discovery. Among these migrations, that of the Pilgrims, as their name implies, was dignified by religion into an exodus. Because of the motives by which they were prompted, the simple folk who sailed from Leyden and Southampton have become historic and august. The going forth was the expression of their religious conviction. They were following not instinct but conscience. They were seeking not wealth but liberty. They were embracing not ambition but the sacrificial opportunity to forward a cause which was dearer to them than their lives. They also showed themselves worthy to be fathers and founders of a people, and to live on as inspiration in its life.

"By faith Abraham . . . when he was called . . . obeyed." As vision is the first, so duty is the second step in the sequences which prepare the way for freedom, and the failure to realize freedom is due most often to neglect of this second step. All men are inspirable. All at times have visitings of the Spirit. Vision, summons, aspiration, are not peculiar to patriarch or prophet; they are the common property of all. But vision fails, and summons cease, and aspiration flags and droops and withers unless translated by duty into deed. "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision," said St. Paul. We do not know what difficulties these Bible heroes overcame; we do not realize, think, what it cost them to sever by sharp and irrevocable decisions the ties of home and kindred which are peculiarly strong in the East. We do know something of the doubts and fears by which the Pilgrim Fathers were beset, for these are recorded in their journals. They did not go lightheartedly, or fanatically, or blindly, into the rigors which awaited them in Plymouth. They anticipated, and even exaggerated what they might encounter on the wild and unknown shores of the new world. They knew that "ther they should be liable," writes Bradford, "to famine, and

nakedness, and ye wante, in a manner, of all things. The chang of aire, diate, & drinking of water, would infect their bodies with sore sicknesses, and greevous diseases." They would also be in danger of savages, who are described as "cruel, barbarous, & most trecherous; not being content only to kill, & take away life, but delight to tormente men in ye most bloodie maner that may be; fleaing some alive with ye shells of fishes, cutting of ye members and joynts of others by peesmeale, and broiling on ye coles, eate ye collops of their flesh in their sight whilst they live; with other cruelties horrible to be related." "Surely," adds the historian, "ye very hearing of these things could not but move ye very bowels of men to grate within them, and make ye weake to quake & tremble." But real dangers and imaginary terrors were alike unable to dissuade them. By faith the Pilgrims, when they were summoned to go forth, obeyed.

Their obedience is characteristic of primitive New England. It is customary to point out contrasts between the Pilgrim and the Puritan, much to the disadvantage of the latter. Here, however, is a point in which they were at one. Pilgrim and Puritan were alike governed in their acts by the sublime principle of duty. It is through their uncompromising recognition of it, their stern devotion to it, that the New England conscience has passed into a proverb. And whatever its defects, for the most part easily avoided, the New England conscience is the peculiar greatness of New England and obedience to duty its enabling power. In its earlier manifestations, this sense of duty was often harsh and tyrannical, especially when it strove to enforce its convictions upon those who did not share them. It was a religious oligarchy which the Puritans created in New England. Their ideal was that of a theocracy modeled as closely as possible upon that of ancient Israel. No one could become a freeman in that community, or cast a freeman's vote, unless he was a member of the church in good and regular standing. No one could become a member of

the church unless he had experienced a certain well-defined type of religious conversion, and passed successfully a rigorous public examination of his religious emotions. Only a small minority of the adult males of the community were able to tread this exacting path to the franchise and to public office, so that in 1670, when the population of Massachusetts Bay Colony numbered about 25,000, there were in the entire community less than twelve hundred freemen. The student of this early period must dig deep to find the seeds of civil and religious liberty which later bore fruit so abundant and so gracious. They were hidden then beneath a soil made by intolerance harder than the soil of Massachusetts by the frost.

That which kept them alive through many ice-bound winters was the spirit of religion. Faith in God means ultimately faith in manhood, made in God's image, ennobled by His Spirit. Duty toward God means ultimate duty toward those in whom His image is recognized, upon whom His Spirit can be bestowed. Recognition of man's spiritual nature means ultimately reverence for the freedom of conscience, and in time political emancipation, too. It is not too much to say that, wanting this fundamental basis of principle, all our vaunted freedom is an illusion, and our political liberties utterly insecure. Civilization does not in any wise secure them to us. No one can think so who reads with discerning eyes the signs of the times. Civilization does indeed multiply the comforts and conveniences of life, but these are not essential to its freedom. When it awakens the taste for luxury, the passion for property, or an undue deference to human opinion, civilization is sometimes forging chains of slavery. Why have the great, creative epochs in the history of nations more often preceded than followed their attainment of a high degree of culture, as the Elizabethan, for example, eclipses the Victorian era, or Dante towers above D'Annunzio? Why, except that in itself civilization has a leveling and depressing influence, putting the bridle and the curb of precedent

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