Tracts for Today

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    National Anti-Slavery Standard, 15 May 1858.
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    National Anti-Slavery Standard
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    Meghan Rafferty

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    National Anti-Slavery Standard
    May 15, 1858
    New Publications

    Tracts for ToDay. By M.D. Conway, Minister of the First Congregational Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. Pp, 308. Cincinnati: Truman & Spofford. New York: C.S. Francis&Co.
    These “tracts”—seventeen in number—are so many sermons, the appearance of which in print is explained in the following prefatory letter, addressed by the author to a minister of the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church:
    “Dear Friend: Your letter is one of the many of a similarly kind, received not only from members of our dear old Conference, but from those who were classmates as Carlisle, members of my circuits, or friends of myself and relatives in Virginia. ‘Why I have let my old associations and communion,’ were indeed a question requiring a long answer. But since it is asked by all my friends (and they have every right to ask it), I have been thinking how I could follow out your suggestion and publish an answer. I have concluded to put forth a small collection of discourses, such as have occurred in my regular ministrations. For it is in these that a preacher’s heart and life get best garnered after all. I am not of that school who have one set of thoughts for the study, another for the pulpit: I can only preach what is the last result of my own mind. Therefore, though I could wish that the urgency of a city parish allowed more time for completeness and elegance, these thoughts are my real self, and as such are to, to me, sacred. From such statements it is easy to trace the threads running back to all I have left—for an apple preserves the mark of the blossom which bore it.
    My Conway, it will be seen, began his ministerial life as a Methodist. He is now what may be called an extreme Unitarian. He gives us, however, in these discourses, no dry and formal statements of doctrine, but living thoughts on practical subjects. His words glow and burn like coals of fire, illuminating every topic on which he speaks, and stirring the soul to high resolve and noble achievement. Those even who dissent from his creed, as inadequate or erroneous, cannot fail to be impressed by his earnest spirit, his intense love of truth, his devotion to humanity, and the manly frankness with which he utters his convictions. He dwells not so much upon special topics of reforms as upon the principles which underlie and the motives which inspire them all. One of the discourses in the volume, however, is upon slavery; it is the one that he preached in Washington in the winter of 1856, and which afterwards appeared in these columns. There are frequent allusions to the subject also in other discourses. One—the last in the volume, and entitled “Man”—appears to have been preached immediately after a company of fugitive slaves had been arrested in Cincinnati and consigned to bondage, by a tyrannical and unprincipled Judge. How striking is this passage:
    “Reverence for what is beneath us never rises to its sacred summit until it is called for by our relation toward the weak, poor and ignorant. Our civilization shows the old savage instinct when it turns from the drunkard or the harlot; when it justifies or ignores the enslavement of millions because they are of an inferior race, that being the truest seal to their claim on our help and protection. In the first age men will eat each other. In the next this ceases, but they will slay and rob each other. The next will abolish this, but replace it with war and slavery. We await the age which shall cease these also, and realize the full sadness of the fact, that this poor humanity, so despised, maltreated, slain, enslaved from age to age, is God’s own heart; shall see in each who is wronged the bleeding Christ, and hear him say again, ‘What ye have done to the least of these my brothers, ye have done to me?’
    “The least of these his brothers! Can it be that each man we see, of whatever degree or complexion, has in him that immortal flame which certifies his brotherhood to the Son of God? Has each the wondrous soul that is little lower than the angels!
    “O, my poor bleeding Christ, I cannot hide from thee! Thou meetest me on the street each day of my life, meekly baring they five red wounds in those, the least of them cannot be wounded but thou art wounded. There in the hovels are the children, growing up in ignorance and vice, whom our free and Christian State decides shall not go to our schools because they are not white. Ah, how plainly I saw—each little hand had the mark of a bloody nail in the centre! This week I met thee again. Against all law, and all right, three helpless ones were sent away into bondage—two of them infants, not dreaming of the fearful fate awaiting—by a think called a Judge; our miserable, venal press, with one exception, applauding; and the community going on heedless of a wrong which in our midst, crucified our Lord afresh?
    “My friends, I ask no pardon for speaking of these things here. Rather pardon us, thou spirit of humanity, that we go on in our apathy and self-seeking; and, seeing thee there, fallen among thieves, who have left thee wounded and stripped of all thou hadst, have passed by on the other side! But if we have forgotten those who are weak and wronged, God has not; and their cry shall pierce where the saintly prayer which forgets them shall fail to enter. Whose touches one of those little ones, touches God’s heart; whose forgets them and their claim, hath forgotten their Infinite Father. Better were it for that man that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea. God is as mindful as you, ye mothers, of his children, made in his image. ‘Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb! Yea, she may forget; yet will I not forget thee.’
    “The present organization of society cannot last; the world is even now budding in every branch and twig with revolution. And why? Because the world is organized on the basis of contempt for man, O ye lord! O ye ladies! Your East Indian delicacies are rich and rare. Feast, adorn your selves, be merry! What elegant forms Indian sinews assume as they reach you—golden, superb! Let the swarthy fellows work on! What affair is it of yours if India is a galley-slave her fair land a brothel for your fine East India Company! Hark! What cry is that? Why do you turn pale?
    “‘Suddenly out of its stale and drowsy lair, the lair of slaves,
    Like lightning Delhi leaps forth—half startled
    As itself; its feet upon the ashes and the rags;
    Its hands tight to the throat of tyrants.
    “What means this crash of trade? It means that man is trifling with man. It means that in Wall street, in State street, men are gambling with the coined heart’s blood and sinews of labour; gambling where the very bread of the widow and the orphan is the stake. Trade, too, it would seem, is based on the contempt of man; men looking on others much in the light of sheep, valuable chiefly on account of their susceptibility of being fleeced.
    “I say again, that the present organization of society is on a foundation of sand, and cannot last.
    “and for all the dreary catalogue of crimes against man, not any one man, or country, or section is to be arraigned. More than any other, I take shame in saying it, the so-called Church of Christ on earth is to be arraigned. Has it not trained men from their infancy to despise and detest their own nature? Has it not taught that every man, even in childhood, is to be distrusted? Has it not taught that God holds men so cheap that the mass of them are to be dammed everlastingly; and that those who are not, are to be saved by all manner of crouchings, whinings and supplications, like spared slaves? What wonder if men deposit, crash, rob and enslave this child of the devil; this walking leprosy; this alien and outcast? Does not God feel that way toward him? Is he not angry with him every day? I do not wonder that the great Church-bodies all over the world are on the side of oppression. No man can estimate the lashes, the chains, which Dogma has imposed on humanity, binding both body and soul.
    “I arraign no less our liberal or free Christianity, as we complacently call it. I fear that, with the majority of us, the binding of a slave is not so horrible as the doubting of a miracle. Our Boston Unitarians will commune with slaveholders, but not with Theodore Parker—that brave, true man, who stands now with broken health, yet where he ever stood, in front of the phalanx of God. It seems, then we have so much to say about our dead Christ, his miracles and prophecies, that we have but little time to consider our present scourged and forsaken Christ, who stands before us in the human world of to-day, with the thorn-crown piercing his brow. Let us not excuse ourselves, but vail our faces! There is no excuse for our Church. We are founded only on the grandeur of human nature, on which also we and our leaders have ever claimed that the mission of the Son of God was founded. [illegible] our views of worship there would be no need for a visible, external Church, were it not for our mission to humanity. Were there no practical duties toward mankind, our faith would say, ‘Close the churches, and turn each man all the more on his own soul, so that he may worship not in any outward temple, but in his closet, in spirit and in truth.’ Our visible Church is a seal to our mission to humanity, as the body is the seal of the soul’s mission to other bodies. We stand here for the dignity of man, for his elevation, for every human claim or else we stands as a wart or a when on the body. We have a God identified with man; a Bible which says, ‘If ye love not your brother whom you have seen, how can ye love God whom ye have not seen?’”
    If every pulpit in the land dealt with slavery in this spirit, how speedily would come the day of jubilee to our millions of bondsmen! How soon would our nation cease to be, for its transcendent wickedness and oppression, and for its treachery to its own high professions,
    “The jest and by word of a mocking earth!”


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