Words That Men Live By
Henry Ward Beecher (1869)
PLYMOUTH, Mass., Nov. 18, 1869 - The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, long noted as orator, minister and voice of the public conscience, today used his pulpit for a plea for reconstruction of public ideals in the LincoIn image, which rose far above the ordinary generalities of churchly homilies.
Now is the time, he said, for the citizens of this reunited country to realize their interdependence; for the North and the South to understand that in their very differences they have much to contribute to each other.
Were Mr. Beecher simply one among his many co-religionists his words would have their due importance, but his unique stature in the country makes them today the equal of official pronouncements. In fact, one recalls that on the very day that President Lincoln and other speakers dedicated the fields of Gettysburg as a national monument, Mr. Beecher's speech of the same day received more prominence on the front page of the New York Times than did the President's.
A fearless individualist, who often makes as many enemies as friends, this preacher is equally as well known in England as America, and did much in 1863, on a visit abroad, to create understanding of the Union cause. More recently his espousal of the equal suffrage movement has opened a new field of contention around him. But whatever stand he takes, he takes with all his might, as today when he hesitated not at all to denounce sectarianism in religion among other evils to be avoided.
In the unity of the nation and the reduction of its materials, we hope much from religion; very little from sectarian churches; much from the Spirit of God blessing the Truth of his Word to the hearts of individual men; much from individual men that are nobler than their sect; much from free men whose adhesion to forms and ceremonies is the least part of their existence; much from religion as it exists in its higher forms in individual nature and in public sentiment; very little from dogmas; very little from theology as such.Printable version
And yet, if it could be understood by them, here is a new call to the sects, not to disband, but to hold each other in true fellowship; to act in harmony if not in unison
Let us look for a true humanity, let us look for the true fruit of religion, not in the associated body of this or that denomination, but in the majesty and power of love in the individual hearts of those who are gathered into sects. Let us look no more into books, merely. Let man be the living epistles in which we shall read what the Spirit of the Lord has to teach in any sect
Until man's reciprocal interests upon the higher plane of moral ideas shall be better understood, until religion shall be a uniting and not a devisive element, we must with more eagerness than ever look to the harmonizing influence of man's reciprocal interests upon the lower plane of commercial and industrial life. So widespread is this nation, that it has within itself almost all the elements of prosperity, which other nations seek within their own borders. The far North and the extreme South work for different products, but in difference they find reciprocal advantage
The States are so many points of vitality. The nation, like a banyan tree, lets down a new root when each new State is established, and when centuries have spread this gigantic commercial tree over a vast space, it will be found that the branches most remote from the center do not draw their vitality through the long intricate passages from the parent trunk, but each outlying growth has roots of its own, and draws from the ground by organisms of its own, all the food it wants, without dissociating its top from the parent branches
Let us then all labor for the unity of the nation by working for the education of its citizens, for the spread of virtue and true morality, for the promotion of our industry which will redeem the poor from servile and social drudgery, for the freedom of its commerce, for a more just and generous sympathy between all its races and classes, for a more benignant spirit to its religion; and finally, let us implore the God of our fathers, by his own wise providence, to save us from our wanton passions, from impertinent egotism, from pride, arrogance, cruelty, and sensual lusts, that as a nation we may show forth his praise in all the earth.