By Rev. Samuel Cochran.
"They hated me without a cause." --John 15:25.
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES PREJUDICE AS A MORAL ACT.
II. THAT IT IS ALWAYS SIN.
III. SEVERAL OCCASIONS OF THE EXERCISE OF PREJUDICE.
IV. EVIDENCES OF PREJUDICE.
It is not my present object to adduce evidences of the truthfulness of this assertion of Christ respecting his enemies. The question may be asked by every one, why did they hate Christ? Various answers may also be given, according as we direct the attention to selfishness itself, or some of its numerous modifications, for the solution. One thing is palpably obvious, that the Jews were bitterly prejudiced against him; and, we think, the text exhibits the nature of prejudice more specifically than any other form of selfishness. At any rate, it is certain, that there are few more prevalent and pernicious evils in existence, than that designated by this term; and there are also few which sway such an uncontested scepter, and enjoy such a singular exemption from the assaults of those who strive for human well-being. And, what makes this exemption more singular, is, that there are very few who do not see and deplore its frightful depredations on the interests of both time and eternity. The truth is, there are scarcely any who do not cower before popular prejudice; and those who will not worship at its shrine, must endure its scourge wielded, if need be, with malicious fury. Hence, it seems to be regarded by men generally, much as some heathen tribes regard their deities, to whom they render sacrifice and service, not as the homage of grateful hearts, but as a fee to avert their malevolence. They yield them an homage befiting demons, simply because they regard them as demons; and yet, whoever has the temerity to attack the claims of their abhorred divinities, is deemed by them to be impious, accursed, and doomed to destruction.
The sorcery of selfishness has never shown its power more strikingly than in this—that every one deprecates popular prejudice, while seeing its gigantic power rearing its insurmountable barriers, and marshaling invincible legions against himself; he then comprehends its justice; he exposes and condemns its ruinous tendencies; he pants for its extermination; but, infatuated by its insidious wiles, he exercises while he deprecates it; and while he anathematizes, courts its alliance.
Of this one thing men seem to be ignorant, that on whatever side enlisted, like the arch fiend
"To do aught good never will be its task,
But ever to do ill its sole delight,
As being the contrary of his high will,
Whom it resists."
Any endeavor, however good its professed object may be, must of necessity become vitiated, just in proportion as those who make it cherish prejudice in their own hearts, or seek to excite it in others. Like the torpedo, it paralyzes whatever it touches. It is the destiny of every house based upon it, to need rebuilding, or at least, a new foundation. Such is the nature and tendency of this enormous and widely dominant evil, which yet, by many, is regarded rather as an excuse for sin, than sin itself. They deem it a sufficient apology for the most bitter and cruel conduct towards others to say—"O, I was prejudiced." But none of its deeds are wrought in God, simply because, as we shall attempt to show in the sequel of this discourse, it is itself essential iniquity in every instance and form of its exercise. It is my design to show—
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES PREJUDICE AS A MORAL ACT.
II. THAT IT IS ALWAYS SIN.
III. SEVERAL OCCASIONS OF THE EXERCISE OF PREJUDICE.
IV. EVIDENCES OF PREJUDICE.
I. In what prejudice, as a moral act, consists.
1. We are all conscious of certain attractions or aversions when the attention is directed to certain objects, doctrines, persons, or classes of men. These attractions and aversions are not moral acts until they are seconded by the will. They are the mere excitement of constitutional susceptibilities; they belong to our sensibility; they are mere emotions, and wholly involuntary. It is, for example, naturally unavoidable in the presence of loathsome reptiles, or the more hideous moral enormities, not to experience an aversion, or impulse to shrink away from their neighborhood. There are certain human beings, such as maniacs, or persons peculiarly deformed, whose presence, until we have grown familiar with it, inspires the same emotion. Persons of a different race, color, or nation, whom we have been taught to regard unfavorabley, also occasion this feeling, until familiarity, or a change of relations may have modified or removed such susceptibility. On the contrary, the attraction which we experience towards beautiful and agreeable persons and objects, is equally an emotion, and not a volition—of the sensibility, and not of the will. There are various influences, such as education, circumstances, moral training, peculiar constitutional temperaments, affinity, relationship, hostilities, &c., which greatly aggravate, modify, or even destroy this constitutional attraction or aversion respecting any given object.
These attractions and aversions are frequently called prejudices; as, for example, the prejudices of education, the prejudices of party, national prejudiced, denominational prejudices, prejudices in one's favor, or against him, &c. We do not intend that in all cases, the thing meant by the term prejudice, as employed in these and similar examples, is merely an emotion, but it frequently is, and in such cases, it is exactly synonymous with those involuntary attractions and aversions of which we are speaking. The term does not, when used in this sense, indicate a moral act, for morality can never be predicated of mere states of the sensibility. As a moral act, therefore, prejudice is something radically different from this.
2. The question then, is still before us—what is prejudice? The term literally means pre-judgment, or forming an opinion respecting men, doctrines, or measures, whether favorable or adverse, without due examination. But what is due examination? The world is full of subjects of every grade of importance form the idlest dream of a passing hour, to the most solemn verity which links man to the universe and its Author. Of course, the less important do not demand, and should not receive, the attention due to the weightier; nor has any one isolated subject a right to engross our whole consideration. But we should regard every subject of which we have knowledge, according to its perceived relative importance, as connected with our duty to the universe. A due examination, therefore, is an honest and faithful endeavor, according to our ability, to know the truth as far as possible respecting all persons, doctrines, and subjects, into relation with which we may be brought. A judgment formed after due examination, is a rational conclusion candidly deduced from the evidence before you. Prejudice, then, being the contrary is the committing of the will to or against any given subject, at the bidding of mere constitutional impulse, or selfish consideration, regardless of the true weight of evidence. It is an opinion assumed as true, not because the balance of evidence, honestly weighed, requires it, but because the mind wills to regard it in that particular light. It may respect either men, doctrines, or measures, in every varying aspect in which they may stand related to us. It is not confined to religious matters, but extends to every department of human relation and human belief.
II. Prejudice, thus defined, is sin.
1. It manifestly is not an indifferent state of mind, that is, one which is neither sinful nor holy; for the mind is not indifferent in it. The question is, why does the mind commit itself? It must have some reason for so doing. If it has a reason for so doing, it is acting intelligently, and it is acting morally.
2. It is self-evident, whenever the subject is understood, that it cannot be virtue. As we have already said, the decisions of an honest mind are according to the preponderance of truth. They are embraced, modified, or abandoned from a pure regard to truth. Like a balance of most delicate adjustment, such a mind yields to the slightest influence. Unlike the balance, however, it is not the passive recipient of such evidence as may chance to come; but rather, in this respect, like the bee, whose tireless wing explores in busy search, wherever there is promise of its nectared sweets. It gathers honey, now from the sweetest flowers which fling their fragrance on the passing gale, and now from spots obnoxious to contemplation. So the virtuous mind, guided by a divine sagacity, ranges abroad in search of truth, and gathers it no less eagerly from the sources which the popular estimation despises, than from those it deems the gardens of God. And, it should be well noted, that he who confines his searchings for truth to the flower gardens of public approval, will gather but scanty gains. One reason is, that it is not truth, as truth, which he is after; and another is, that quite beyond the precincts approved by public opinion, in those seldom trodden regions to which its finger contemptuously points, are unmeasured fields, all blooming, not with 'vegetable gold,' but with eternal virtues, and all fragrant, not with Eden's aroma, but with Heaven's sanctifying influences. It is in those fields that angels gather their unfading garlands, and it is thither that those who expect to be angels must resort to wreathe for themselves the chaplets of immortality. Virtue and prejudice are terms of opposition.
3. Prejudice therefore must be sin—sin always and sin every where.
(1.) Selfishness is sin, and certainly prejudice is selfishness. Why does the mind commit itself? Why is it unwilling to know and yield to the real truth as it respects all subjects and all persons? It is impossible it should be, for any other than some selfish reason.
(2.) Its tendencies prove it sin. Its exercise invariably injures mankind, and injures them in proportion to its intensity. When it vents calumny and denunciation, and enacts proscription—when it conceals the flowings of charity, and poisons the fountains of human sentiment—when it blinds the eye of reason, and excites the mob to violence, its blight and rage do not expend themselves upon mere abstractions, but upon human beings. It universally treats them in violation of benevolence. As I have already shown, it is state of will; and therefore, it, of necessity, acts itself out. It is essentially active, and essentially malevolent in every possible manifestation. I wish to illustrate this by three distinct suppositions, covering all the possible applications of this immorality.
1. Suppose the prejudice be in favor of men, doctrines, or measures, which are really good. Is it thereby sanctified? We answer, no; for although, according to the supposition, these objects are really good, still, prejudice in their favor, is committing the mind to them, not because they are good, but because of some selfish consideration, perchance, from the influence of education, or domestic relationship. There are numberless of a purely selfish character which may induce men to embrace such doctrines and parties even in religion. Men may see them to be good—nay, intrinsically excellent, and yet embrace them for other reasons. Such cases are numerous in the world's history. But their embrace is an embrace of sin, and they but pollute the cause which they profess to espouse. What glorious cause has not been tainted, and deeply injured by such allies? If prejudice attaches them to one party, it will, just in proportion to its strength, array them against the contrary, and intolerance, bigotry, and superstition will be their ordinary fruit. None are true adherents to any cause, except those who espouse it from a candid conviction of its own intrinsic excellence. This only is receiving the truth in the love of it. All embracing or opposing for selfish reasons is sin. Where persons cleave to any given party from mere prejudice, they are generally characterized by a manifest want of candor towards all who oppose that party. Demonstrations, strong as proofs from holy writ, are with them as the dust of the balance. The more they ought to be convinced, the more self-confident and acrimonious they are; and nothing provokes them so much as arguments they cannot answer against their favorite theory or party. Another characteristic that they do not say either in heart or conduct, "Let truth prevail, to whomsoever it dates its development, but, let my views and party prevail at all hazards." They do not love good men and truth universally, but blind passion holds the scepter, and sways the decisions of their minds. In fact they never are and never will be disinterested followers of that which is good. Both their will and their works are partial and unjust wherever their tract is crossed.
2. Suppose again, that the prejudice is exercised against men, doctrines, and measure which are really bad, and even pernicious. Is it now a virtue? Again we answer, no; and for the same reason as in the former instance. In the case before us, it is true according to the supposition, the mind assumes and maintains its hostility to that which is evil, but not because it is evil. The opposition is from sinister consideration. Of course it would be absurd to say that such a committal of the will is candid and disinterested. Were the objects opposed ever so blameless, and did similar considerations weigh against them, they would be opposed with equal sternness. Like the elephant in war, only turn prejudice about, and it will trample its friends, as fiercely as it did its foes. It is therefore sin, even when directed against that which is intrinsically evil, that is, from its very nature.
3. Suppose again, that the prejudice is against men, doctrines, or measures which are really good. Then, it is sin whose aggravation is often crimsoned to the intensest hue, and whose 'cry is waxen great before the face of the Lord.' The degree of its guilt is great in exact proportion to the manifest importance of the doctrines resisted; to the wisdom of the measures adopted to promote their dissemination; and, to the disinterested and sacred character of the men who inculcate the doctrines, and adopt the measures. In committing itself against such, the mind must assume a more willful and obstinate attitude. Hence, the holiest men, and the purest truths, have ever met with the most ferocious opposition. A mind, having once begun to exercise the mildest form of prejudice against such objects, is generally rapidly precipitated from stage to stage, until, in a short time, it arrives at the most malignant fanaticism and bigotry. The momentous tragedy of the cross illustrates this frightful progression. The prejudice of the Jews against Christ commenced after his entrance upon his public ministry, and yet in less than three years it grew into fiendish malignity, and burst upon his head in a tempest of destructive fury. It heaved the passions of the multitude, as the hurricane heaves the ocean: and their hatred towards Him was exterminating, just because it was 'hatred without a cause.'
All history, ancient and modern, teems with illustrations of the virulence to which prejudice hastily ripens, against the fairest and best characters, but especially when it concerns religious matters. Perhaps we can trace the philosophy of this fact. Men are so constituted, as to "judge of their own selves what is right;" and often does their reason approve those whom their prejudice pursues as unfit to live. This produces self-condemnation and reproach. Hence, in order to hold out against and escape this self-condemnation, they concentrate their will into sterner hostility, on the one hand, and on the other, seek to justify it by ascribing to them the worst of characteristics and designs. Those who have ripened into the most rancorous spirit of hostility and persecution against others, have done so by their perpetual endeavors to drown self-reproach for the unreasonableness of their conduct, by persuading themselves that those whom they oppose and persecute, have characters sufficiently perverse to more than justify their enmity—by abstracting their attention from all in them which is praiseworthy, or misinterpreting it as hypocrisy, and by noting with an evil and magnifying eye, all in them which will at all bear the construction of evil. Every day only makes the matter worse. Fanatics, bigots, and persecutors, are to those in the initiative of prejudice, what reeling and raging drunkards are to the moderate drinker. And their progress is similar. Look at the moderate drinker. The more he drinks, the more he thirsts, and the more he thirsts, the more he drinks, till by a constantly accelerating process, he grows into a fright and a curse to humanity. There are some exceptions, but such is the legitimate result of moderate drinking. So the exercise of prejudice leads men to attribute evil to its objects; this reacts upon their prejudice to inflame it, and it again produces corresponding efforts to establish the conviction of justifying evil abroad, and thus a malevolence is rapidly ripened, which nothing short of the extermination of its objects can satiate. Exceptions do not disprove that this is its legitimate tendency. It is strange and solemn, that during this whole process those against whom this storm is gathering and raging, may be, and often are, the most perfect of characters; nay, they may be persons who will and work most benevolently and self-denyingly, not only for the world at large, but for the very ones who thus pursue them with relentless ill-will. It is often the case that while some persecuting Saul is 'breathing out threatnings and slaughter' against the objects of his prejudice, a suffering Stephen is praying 'Lord, lay not this sin to his charge.' How often is it, that while some man of God is laboring and praying 'with strong crying and tears,' the tongue of prejudice flings poison at him, and makes his name the synonym of infamy. It is against such, that prejudice is especially rancorous, leaving no means untried which malevolence can contrive or zeal execute to crush them; So that the holy Jesus is always worse treated than Barabbas, the thief, and the robber. It destroys its victims in order to confirm itself in the belief that they are atrocious wretches. The syllogism of its logic stands thus—I hate and destroy such persons. But I only hate and destroy those who deserve such treatment. Therefore, these persons deserve it. It is thus it persuades itself it is doing God's service, even while shedding the blood of his saints, or blasting their name with its slanderous breath.
It is manifest, therefore, that prejudice, viewed in any aspect whatever, is radically contrary to the law of love. It is always and every where hatred without a cause, and sin in its very nature.
III. I am to specify several occasions of the exercise of prejudice.
Selfishness is the grand essential occasion. It is to prejudice what the tree is to its fruit. The tree may indeed exist without producing the fruit, but the fruit cannot exist without the tree. There never yet was prejudice without selfishness, for prejudice is only a specific form of selfishness. Selfishness must therefore always be presupposed in discussions respecting the origin of prejudice. This then being given I proceed to mention---
1. The influence of education as a very common occasion. Mankind are apt to be extremely tenacious of the opinions and judgments in which they have been educated. Hence, when they meet different and opposite views, they are very liable to assume at once, that they are false and pernicious; and if the advocates of these differing views press them earnestly for general acceptance, they are very apt to exercise prejudice against them, embittered in proportion to the tenacity with which they cleave to their own. This tendency, we grant, is frequently modified by other circumstances, so that persons without any intrinsic love for truth, will often patiently hear, and respectfully treat differing views, even when they regard them as utterly wrong. But, where they have been educated in a hereditary evil opinion against a party in the State, a denomination of Christians, foreign nations, certain sections of their own country, certain neighboring families or individuals, this educational bias is easily transformed into prejudice and invincible antipathy. The relation sustained by the Jews and Samaritans, by Christian and Islamic nations, by different political parties, by rival sects of Christians, and by neighboring families, as described in history, and seen with our eyes, illustrates and proves this educational bias. What multitudes are thus first induced to exercise this estranging iniquity.
2. Another common, and strongly tempting occasion is a great deference for authority, and the established order of things. The accustomed formulas of doctrine and discipline, and rites and forms, if only they can be traced from a hoary antiquity, and stand associated with popular and venerable names, hold multitudes with bands of steel. They regard it as sacrilege to depart from the views of the fathers and worthies of the past. Authority is their leige-lord, and they yield it no reluctant or stinted homage. No weary pilgrim ever bowed at his long sought shrine with a deeper devotion. Hence, there is nothing more likely to distress and agonize them than innovation; and, whenever its omens appear above the horizon of custom, they give signs of panic, and forthwith commit themselves against the invasion in whatever form it comes, and by whomsoever introduced. Such persons are found in all sects, parties, and professions; but in some more than others, because their genius is better calculated to foster their tendency. Whenever any new principle, whether of doctrine or policy, of important bearing, begins to be molded in any identified community, but especially in any religious denomination old enough to have become inveterated, or to have canonized its departed worthies into a bench of authority, at first, you will hear the note of alarm sounded with feeble utterance; you will see the spirit of prejudice busily raising recruits, and marshaling them for conflict; you will hear its voice waxing louder and louder, like that of the coming tempest, as it leads on its gathering legions; as it advances, and its forces increase, you will witness its transformation into fanaticism—from fanaticism to bigotry to downright intolerance; and then, if it meet not its bound, it will not rest until it has exterminated the execrated objects of its vengeance. Thank God, it has limits—bounds beyond which it cannot pass; but still it is a formidable evil; and every step the reformation of mankind has gained, has been wrested by tug and toil, by daring and endurance from the vassals of authority. But it is a matter of joy, that, in every party, there are those who give place—no, not for a moment to the mandates of this spirit, who neither partake of its guilty companionship, nor confine themselves to its prescribed limits. But the multitude are prone to look back, and many of their leaders constantly guide their eyes in that direction. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, they still seek a return to the Egypt of the past. Their zeal is continually expended in efforts to effect a retrogression of society, or at least, to prevent its progression. To such we would say—Beware ye, who bow down at the shrine of the past, and meekly fashion yourselves to its likeness and prescriptions—ye who seek to burrow away among its moldering forms and formularies—beware lest, by blindly devoting yourselves to these, ye reject both the light and the commissioned agencies of God for a world's redemption, and even be found fighting against Him! So did the Jews when Christ came, and when those sent of Him went abroad. The Messiah and his Apostles were rejected, and the curse of God still burns upon the nation which set them a nought. So did the mass of the Roman Catholic Church, when the Reformation disinterred a buried gospel, and published abroad its resurrection. The countries which then rejected it reject it still, and continue to bow down their backs beneath the onerous superstition and ignorance of the dark ages. So are multitudes of the current generation doing, and upon their posterity will be entailed the retributions naturally linked to such guilty folly. Perhaps, hundreds of years hence, they see as their fathers saw, and think as their fathers thought, rejecting all that is novel in theory or practice except so much as may clandestinely creep upon them, and, as is often the case unconsciously to themselves, change, or, at least modify their vision and their conduct. Such persons can be carried along by imperceptible advances. Whenever, by open endeavor, you attempt to hasten their progress, and new-model their views and conduct, you will instantly find that you but arouse their aversion, and awaken their prejudice; and if they rush not into downright fanaticism and rancorous antipathy, they will at least entrench themselves in invincible perversions and willful ignorance of that which they oppose.
3. But right over against this blind deference to authority, is a reckless zeal for innovation. When persons commit themselves to some new principle or theory, however good in itself, with a devotion which leaves room for nothing else, they are liable to become prejudiced against all who follow not the same extreme. Innovation becomes their passion, and they stand, truncheon in hand, eager to smite down every monument of the past, and to extirpate respect for all that has lived before them. Hence they censure, and often intolerantly denounce all who oppose, or even stand aloof from their unsparing onslaught. Let such also beware. While of the former class it is their peculiarity to look back, of this it is the peculiarity to look exclusively forward, and with a prejudice equally inveterate against all who do not sympathize with their zeal. When their prejudice has ripened into fanaticism, they are generally characterized by a furious driving, like that of Jehu, who drove to prove his zeal for the Lord. It is no less their principle to devastate indiscriminately whatever has been, than to introduce what, as they hope, shall be. Our times are not wanting in samples of this class as well as the former. When, in the violation of all decorum and all civility, persons obtrude themselves into congregations assembled for public worship, or other lawful purposes, and insist upon a hearing on their peculiar topic, however great its intrinsic merits may be, they afford a sample, not only of zeal without knowledge, but of zeal fanatical. And hence, when the opposition, irritated by the intrusion, rejects their inculcations, and resents their impertinence —perhaps removes them from the assembly, instead of learning wisdom from the obvious results, they assume that they are persecuted servants of the Most High, and rasp themselves into even a fiercer zeal. The cause of truth gains nothing, but loses immensely from such zealots. It is thus that extremes meet.
4. But right between these extremes, lies a determination to pursue a wise course, which also often proves an occasion of prejudice. When persons are resolved to progress, not by blindly embracing whatever comes recommended as auxiliary, if not essential to progress, but by honestly and prayerfully investigating the past and present, and embracing all which they are convinced is true and good in both; and when they witness the absurdity and injurious nature of both the extremes noted, they are often strongly tempted to prejudice against both—against the one for its obstinate blindness, playing the owl at noon-day; and against the other for its mad marring of a good thing. It therefore, behooves such to guard themselves well, lest, while attempting to navigate the strait between these opposite extremes, the very effort to avoid them should precipitate them into this treacherous eddy against which they are not guarded. There are but few, who, pilotted by love, securely track the middle way, and safely emerge, on every trial, into the clear of well ascertained truth.
5. We next instance the principle of self-esteem, as another, and quite common occasion of prejudice. When persons cross it, and treat us with less regard than we think we should receive; when they thwart our plans directed to the gratification of this principle; when they act upon and propagate principles we see must operate against our frame; whether these things are designed or not on their part, we naturally find ourselves tempted to be prejudiced against them. Those who are least dead to worldly regards, will be most tempted in this direction.
6. In like manner the love of property is another origin of strong temptation to prejudice. Whoever plies a business of rival bearing to that which we pursue, conflicting with our gains, or depreciating our possessions, however innocently, will almost certainly tempt us into prejudice against him. Hence the old maxim, "Two of a trade can ne'er agree." They are almost always rivals. How seldom are persons of the same profession or business, friends. What a fire often consumes the marrow of rival artists, rival professional aspirants, rival merchants, and so on, through all the departments of human pursuit. Rivalry awakes suspicion, and this ends in hostility.
Thus in detail might we enumerate these tempting occasions almost endless, noting such, as the influence of evil-reports, or hard sayings, against others, engendering and accordant aversion, or suspicion; sympathy for given individuals, or classes or denominations, or subjects of important concernment, inducing corresponding dislike and hostility to whatever stands opposed to them; deep devotion to certain principles and policies, summoning up and arraying antipathies against all which conflict, and their advocates; bonds of relationship and affinity, tempting to hostility to all who touch upon their well-being or interests; sectarian partyism among different denominations; opposition to Christianity, exciting the irreligious against Christians, ministers, the Bible, and all cognate objects; seeing bad specimens of the professed believers in any given doctrine, or measures, the truth of which we have held as doubtful; misjudgments, or hasty and false conclusions against persons, or subjects; attempts to destroy castes in society—especially to elevate to our head, those whom, on any account, we have regarded as beneath us in the social scale; unwelcome reproofs, or exposures of our views—these, and a thousand others, might be dwelt on in detail as the successful occasions of prejudice in all its various shades and degrees. Such temptations to this sin stand around us, thick as the forest trees in the western wild, and well must be conducted through their dense and darkening mazes by the Spirit of God, who does not, at least occasionally, depart from wisdom's way under their wizard influence. But time forbids to dwell particularly on each of these.
We proceed lastly---
IV. To specify some evidences of prejudice.
The first evidence I adduce, is the being conscious of a want of candor. If persons are committed against any doctrines, persons, or communities, wherever these are objects of attention, they will be conscious of their committal. When, therefore, they are unwilling to examine, duly and candidly, any subject or measure relating to the world's weal, they are certainly prejudiced. No mind is able, at the first glance, to decide on the merits and bearings of the great questions of reform, social and religious, which God's providence, and man's busy agency, are constantly urging into public notice and consideration. Candid and thorough examination should therefore precede a decision on the merits of all such questions; and to decide against them at their first annunciation, as many do, is fruitful of the very worst consequences. It is to exclude all just comprehension of their import from the mind, and to be as the balance with one scale full of weights and the other empty. Such decisions are bitter perversions, and, if they weigh aught in public estimation, tend to arouse fears and hostility, and to prevent all honest and rational attention to the subject. Persons thus judging, are sure to treat the advocates of the views they resist, in scandalous violation of the golden rule, fastening every stigma upon them, which an evil heart can prompt them to invent, and an evil hand inflict. Who has not witnessed a spirit in such persons, some of them editors of widely circulated religious journals, and claiming to be observers for the religious public, which betokened an utter estrangement for candor, when speaking of those against whose principles they have committed themselves? Does one, professing to embrace those principles, commit any moral enormity? It matters not with these observers how much all the others may condemn it—it matters not how unsullied they may be—it matters not how absurd, and unjust, and infidel—nay, infernal, is the logic which deduces such an occurrence from the entertaining of such views—it matters not how such engulfing logic may extend and apply to other communities, and even their own—notwithstanding all these, in their blind and bloated bigotry, they declare before high heaven and publish all abroad, that such an enormity is the legitimate offspring of such principles, and proves them of pernicious tendency! Thus some maintain that the dreadful lapse of the late editor of the Oberlin Evangelist, proves that the views of sanctification held at Oberlin are of immoral tendency. But the logic is perfectly stupid, and such as many infidels would scorn to employ. We could mention similar afflictions to the church of Christ which have occurred in the Presbyterian and Congregational bodies within a few years—we could mention four in one presbytery in western Pa. Within the last year—we could mention one regular Congregational minister in Massachusetts within two months—we could mention similar instances in the Episcopal, the Baptist, the Methodist denominations, and we know of no sect free from them. The very statement of such facts is truly distressing. But suppose our infidels should publish abroad that all these enormities are the natural fruit of Christianity, and prove its tendency licentious. Who could admit such a stultified conclusion? Suppose we, who believe in sanctification, should proclaim these, not merely as the natural fruits of Imperfectionism, but as proof of the licentious tendency of Presbyterianism, &c. I thank God, that both our faith and our logic forbid a course which is at once so unchristian and unreasonable, and that we remember the 9th commandment, which is quite as obligatory as the 7th. But suppose we should reason this, in violation of the positive command of God. What defense could these keen-sighted, and very Christian moralists set up, as a shield against such a specimen of dialectics? Verily, they would be at their wit's end. Would they say, "these fallen men were hypocrites, and therefore their lapse proves nothing against the body to which they belonged"? Would they say, "the principles and doctrines of heaven itself could not keep Satan, who was perfectly holy, from falling"? Would they say, "the holy Adam fell in Paradise"? Would they point to King David, the man after God's own heart? Would they instance Judas, one of the only twelve disciples which Christ had? Would they adduce Peter? Would they gather up the hundreds of instances which have caused the Church to bleed in every successive century, to prove that these cases were nothing peculiar? Would they say that no community should be held responsible for such things, whose declared sentiments before, and whose prompt censures after their occurrence, had stamped the brand of condemnation on them? Such reasons would be all pertinent and invincible in defense of any abused Christian people, and the gospel insulted through them. Such has ever been the mode of parrying the attacks of infidelity, when it has attempted to make capital out of the lapses, whether great or small, of any of the professed followers of Christ. But alas, infidelity may now exult, and march with all its forces to beleagure Christianity, under the example of its own professed adherents. Their renegade banner, "full high advanced," now waves them on against its very citadel. To attempt to prove the pernicious influence of the sentiments of a whole Christian community from individual cases of defection, is treason against the Church in general, and is ruthlessly to demolish its very bulwark of defense. Oh, will not the spectacle of professed Christians gloating, in exultation, on the agonies of those, within the circle of whose abused confidence such infamous folly has been wrought, and from whose affinities the perpetrator has been repulsed with sternest aversion—will not such a spectacle administer strength to infidelity, quite as much as the depravity itself which has thus crucified Christ afresh? An does it not evince as real an estrangement from the spirit of Christianity? Does it belong to the household of faith? Is it not from beneath rather than from above? Is it of that love described in 1 Cor. 13th chapter?
It needs here to be noted how utterly many, even professed Christians, trample in the dust the golden rule, in their conduct towards those whom they suppose to be in error. Their reasoning seems to be this: "They are in error; therefore, we may flout them to their faces; we may misrepresent them, slander them, summon up, and array public prejudice against them, blight their character, paralize their influence, deny their justice, exclude them from our charitable regards, treat them as heathen men and sinners—in short, morally crucify them." Do they forget that the impartial law of God requires them to treat such supposed errorists as they should wish to be treated were they in similar circumstances? Would they be willing that others, who regard them as errorists, should thus treat them? Would they, if they were the objects of such treatment, recognize its principle as intrinsically better than that of an auto da fe? How can Christians be so seduced of Satan, as, like Saul of Tarsus, to deem such violent prejudices, and its fruitful brood of outrages, either approved of God, or consistent with righteousness? The truth is, such a spirit is nothing but fanaticism, enshrining the ism of a party as an essential of slavation—and oftentimes it is "blind, burning, and headlong as the Samiel wind," 'being exceedingly mad against' all who will not bow to its claims.
The spirit of prejudice makes no allowance for ignorance, constitutional peculiarities, educational biases, or differing relations; but judges and denounces all who discard its dictation and sentiments, wholly irrespective of these things. It hunts after whatever may favor one class of men, doctrines and measures, and vigilantly excludes whatever would favor the opposite class, although it has by no means thoroughly examined the claims of either side. It keeps back in its public circulations, things favorable, while it dwells upon, and urges those which are unfavorable to men, doctrines, or measures diverse from those for which it has affinity. It sometimes assumes and maintains a dogged silence, exhibiting a kind of contempt for doctrines which it hates but cannot extinguish, and for persons whom it would, but cannot silence or refute. When it finds itself worsted in the field of fair argument, it often resorts to ridicule as its corps de reserve. For instance, a certain prominent D. D. in the presence of a class of theological students, ridiculed the doctrine of sanctification in this life, by giving it the low epithet of spankification. What was his state of mind? This spirit is evinced by an unwillingness to abandon an opinion respecting men, doctrines, or measures, even when convinced that the grounds on which it is formed are wholly erroneous. It shows itself in a disposition to magnify small things against its objects, and to disparage all their excellencies. Under its magic wand, mole hills swell to mountains, and mountains melt to plains. It is a partizan and sectarian spirit, denouncing all other sects and doctrines, than the one which it may have embraced, or received by inheritance. It attributes evil motives to those engaged in pursuits or courses which it dislikes, and keeps entirely aloof from the advocates and adherents of any doctrine which it has branded. It jeers at certain classes in society, as for example, against Christians, calling them hypocrites; against clergymen, calling their function priestcraft; against abolitionists, calling them fanatics—in short, against whomever and whatsoever it is averse from.
I have thus thrown together several illustrations of the spirit of prejudice, each of which is, in itself, a topic of extended remarks, but which I cannot here enlarge upon. The reader can ponder them at his leisure. I shall now append several remarks, and close.
1. The prejudiced man dooms himself to remain in ignorance respecting some of the most important and interesting subjects which relate to human weal or human woe. He may understand something of the past, but he never comprehends his own times and their products. Mole-like, he must wind his dark way through time into eternity; and there first will these momentous truths burst upon his astonished vision. There his prejudice will no longer, like a stained and diffractive medium, discolor and distort whatever he looks upon. He will no longer see earth's fairest virtues, and purest truths through an eclipse.
"But 'tis not so above:
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in to evidence."
The character which on earth appears in his eye as filthy rags, will doubtless there appear in many cases little less stainless than an angel's robe.
2. He who labors to convince such a mind, will mostly labor in vain. The toils and language of him who went about doing good, and who spake as never man spake, were, and still are, as exemplified in his faithfullest follower, in its estimation, but the works and words of one who hath a devil. It can resist even demonstration. Says Dr. Cudworth in his Preface to his Intellectual System of the Universe, in reference to the arguments which he would adduce against Atheism, "Nevertheless, it will not follow from hence, that whosoever shall read these demonstrations of ours, and understand all the words of them, must therefore of necessity be presently convinced, whether he will or not, and put out of all manner of doubt and hesitancy, concerning the existence of a God. For we believe that to be true which some have affirmed, that were there any interest of life, any concernment of appetite and passion, against the truth of geometrical theorems themselves, as of a triangle having three angles equal to two right—whereby men's judgments may be clouded and bribed, notwithstanding all the demonstrations of them, many would remain at least skeptical about them. Wherefore, mere speculation, and dry mathematical reason, in minds unpurified, and having a contrary interest of carnality, and a heavy load of infidelity and distrust sinking them down, cannot alone beget an unshaken confidence and assurance of so high a truth as this—the existence of one perfect understanding being, the original of all things." In full accordance with this is the old saying, "Convince a man against his will, and he is of the same opinion still." The Jews never found the truth of Christ, 'even because they could not hear his word.'
3. Prejudice is no excuse for sin; for that would be to make sin an excuse for itself. On the contrary, it is an aggravated form of sin. For example, suppose a lawyer should plead in extenuation of the crime of murder charged against his client, that he was prejudiced against his victim. He would certainly lose his case on the ground that this very prejudice exhibited malice pretense. Or suppose a jury should render an unwanted verdict, and assign as the reason that they were prejudiced. Such a verdict would of course be set aside.
4. Hence, when a man is known to be prejudiced, he ought not to be trusted with any matter, nor credited in any statement which he may make respecting a matter which his prejudice is know to embrace. And it is of vital importance to bear this in mind, in reading the representations of party editors on any subject, against which they are known to be committed; and in hearing the various reports put in circulation by violent partizans, against those to whom they are opposed.
5. Prejudice is one of the most subtle forms of selfishness. It creeps in so clandestinely and easily that it often has complete possession of a mind which firmly believes itself entirely removed from its influence. Nothing is more delusive. Like Satan, it often assumes an angelic garb, and under a pretended zeal for religion and the good of mankind, it exercises and justifies injustice, and even persecution towards multitudes. Those who exercise it most, often cry out loudest against it; just as the thief pursued for a depredation, cries "stop thief," with the loudest voice. None denounce bigotry and fanaticism so much as bigots and fanatics of the sturdiest growth.
6. It tends to perpetuate existing evils forever. It has no restorative power in it. It is like some mercenary state which excites other nations into a belligerent attitude against each other, in order that it may reap advantage from their strife by securing a lucrative enlistment of its sons to aid their battles, and a gainful market for its products. But on whatever side enlisted, it is a perfidious ally, equally alien to the interests of both, bearing down with its whole power today upon those whom but yesterday it aided, and tomorrow deserting the party whom today it crowns with victory. But let all remember that its undeviating aim and tendency is, to destroy peace, promote war, and enlarge its own influence and possessions.
7. Prejudiced minds practice a great and gross delusion upon themselves in supposing that truth is just what they will it to be. They seem to think that they can at will transmute truth into error, and error into truth; and to forget that the nature of truth renders it as imperishable as the foundations of the eternal throne. While God endures, it will endure, and moreover it will triumph over error.
"Truth crushed to earth revives again:
The eternal years of God are hers.
While error smitten, writhes in pain,
And dies amid its worshipers."
If "a death-bed's a detection of the heart," the judgment is the vindicator of truth.
8. Mistakes, or mis-judgments are in kind distinguishable from prejudice. Mistakes belong to the head, prejudice to the heart. The first shining of truth will dissipate the former, as the advancing morning rectifies the errors of natural sight; but the latter with an invulnerable obstinacy, like that of Charles, the Swedish madman, or a demon in possession of a human soul, pertinaciously cleaves to its purpose, regardless of all truth's marshalled array.
9. There is nothing against which a minister should guard himself and his people more than this. He should be very careful what kind of representations and appeals he makes to them. If he appeals to their aversions and attractions, and attempts to secure their will by exciting these, he will infallibly lead them into sin. I fear sectarianism is thus chiefly supported. Barriers are thus interposed between whole denominations, "which else like kindred drops had melted into one." Their reciprocations are not those of love, but of recrimination, and even stern denunciation. Their piety becomes partyism, and as Goldsmith said of Burke—"They give up to party what was meant for mankind."
10. Unless we watch, as with Argus eyes, we will fall into the exercise of prejudice against those who exhibit it against us. It has a natural tendency to transform whatever it looks upon, and whoever looks upon it, into its own likeness. Abhorrence for it generates it, and resisting inveterates it.
11. How then shall we avoid its pollution? Not barely by denouncing it. But by putting on the whole spirit and temper of the Lord Jesus Christ—by living in readiness to endure all things, and even to die for our worst enemies, those who bitterly persecute us—by praying for all men—by pondering such examples as are furnished us by Paul, and Stephen, and others like them—by making allowance for all who tempt us to this vice, by considering the mitigating circumstances in their case, as for example, their ignorance, educational biases, temperaments, relations, &c.
12. Prejudice renders men bigoted, intolerant, and fanatical, and these vices are not peculiar to the Church. I have found them vastly more rampant and fierce out of the church than in it. They never yet grew in the soil of a benevolent heart—they never germinated except in selfishness. It is manifest that men generally regard it as sin, from the fact that they are ashamed to confess that they are prejudiced. They know it is unreasonable and unjust.
13. There is nothing too cruel for it to do. How many tragedies of horror has it enacted. Has it not been a prime element in all the horrid persecutions which have scathed and blighted humanity? Did it not lead the van in the extermination of Christ from the earth? Has it not, in this country, during the past dozen years, aroused and banded its hundreds, here and there, in mobs well nigh as fierce and demoniac, as those which drenched the earth on St. Bartholomew's eve, with the torrents of human blood, and erected from the chaos of depravity, that lurid and frightful beacon, for a world's admonition and warning? Who, that felt it his duty to plead for the slave, did not go about carrying his life in his hand, and holding it on the slightest tenure? And is not the state of mind towards the colored race in this nation, one of dire cruelty? When we read of the prejudice against the Jews throughout Europe about three hundred years ago, we are overwhelmed with indignation and abhorrence. Look at a single fact to illustrate this—"In Germany, and all over Europe, when a Jew came to a city, before entering, he was to go round its premises with his hat off, and bowing as he went. A German village was burnt, and application was made to a rich Jew in its vicinity for aid to rebuild it, and relieve the sufferers. He liberally advanced his funds for both objects, and the village was rebuilt. Only three years after in entering that same village, he was obliged to stop at the gate, pull off his shoes, and walk barefooted through the streets, bowing as he went." You read and execrate; but wherein does the principle differ which thrusts down the colored man to the lowest ties of society, and resists his elevation to equal rights and privileges among us? Not at all; but on the contrary, let it but deem itself provoked by an earnest urgency to an alternation, and sooner would it immolate the entire race, bond and free, at the shrine of its selfishness, than to consent practically to acknowledge their equality.
14. Prejudice is one of the most prevalent forms of sin in the Church and world. It seems an omnipresent spirit of evil. We find it in the national cabinet, in the legislative hall, and in the court of justice. W find it in all ecclesiastical bodies, general assemblies, associations and yearly meetings. We find it in the study, the pulpit, and the orator's stand. We find it in all sects and parties, in all high-ways and by-ways, at home and abroad, on the land and on the sea—we find it in our libraries, in the news-papers, in sermons and prayers—in short, like the locusts of Egypt, its hateful presence is every where except in the heart which pulsates with the love of God. And, wherever it goes it seems to be backed by a leash of menials who delight to do its work in exterminating peace and love form among men.
15. Finally let all who are guilty of this iniquity repent—let every one build over against his own house, and let the work be thorough. Unless it be put away it will infallibly damn the soul. A prejudiced man can no more be saved than a liar, or murderer. His state of mind is the exact reverse of heaven's pure sympathies. I fear multitudes perish without full comprehension of the crimson hue of this guilt. This sin is left almost wholly unrebuked in the house of God, and measures taken often to nourish and perpetuate it. It must be expelled from the sanctuary, and this can be done only by introducing its moral opposite, that 'love which hideth a multitude of sins.' Will not ministers ponder this matter? Will they not, at least, warn their people? O, how many of them would first need to cleanse themselves of the leprosy, before they could exhort others. It would seem as though, for some years past, more has been done to confirm the Church in this wickedness than to expel it from her. To what will it not grow if this curse be continued. Parties will consolidate into a hostility as inveterate as the leopard's spots, or the Ethiopian's skin—and then, will the world be converted? Will the spirit of grace rest on the saints of the Most High? Oh, how many now are under the condemnation of hating each other without a cause! May we all exchange this hatred for love, since love is the fulfilling of the law.
From: The Oberlin Evangelist Vol. VI….No. 9. April 24, 1844. Pg. 65, 73.
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