Tendencies Toward A Manifestatio

The three centuries of history which we have passed under rapid review

comprise a series of political events of the highest importance to

mankind. We have seen, from our side-point of view, the planting, along

the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean, without mutual concert or

common direction, of many independent germs of civilization. So many of

these as survived the perils of infancy we have seen growing to a lusty

uth, and becoming drawn each to each by ties of common interest and

mutual fellowship. Releasing themselves from colonial dependence on a

transatlantic power, we find these several communities, now grown to be

States, becoming conscious, through common perils, victories, and hopes,

of national unity and life, and ordaining institutes of national

government binding upon all. The strong vitality of the new nation is

proved by its assimilating to itself an immense mass of immigrants from

all parts of Europe, and by expanding itself without essential change

over the area of a continent. It triumphs again and again, and at last

in a struggle that shakes the world, over passions and interests that

threaten schism in the body politic, and gives good reason to its

friends to boast the solid unity of the republic as the strongest

existing fact in the political world. The very great aggrandizement of

the nation has been an affair of the last sixty years; but already it

has recorded itself throughout the vast expanse of the continent in

monuments of architecture and engineering worthy of the national


The ecclesiastical history which has been recounted in this volume,

covering the same territory and the same period of time, runs with equal

pace in many respects parallel with the political history, but in one

important respect with a wide divergence. As with civilization so with

Christianity: the germs of it, derived from different regions of

Christendom, were planted without concert of purpose, and often with

distinct cross-purposes, in different seed-plots along the Atlantic

seaboard. Varying in polity, in forms of dogmatic statement, and even in

language, the diverse growths were made, through wonders of spiritual

influence and through external stress of trial, to feel their unity in

the one faith. The course of a common experience tended to establish a

predominant type of religious life the influence of which has been

everywhere felt, even when it has not been consented to. The vital

strength of the American church, as of the American nation, has been

subjected to the test of the importation of enormous masses of more or

less uncongenial population, and has shown an amazing power of digestion

and assimilation. Its resources have been taxed by the providential

imposition of burdens of duty and responsibility such, in magnitude and

weight, as never since the early preaching of the gospel have pressed

upon any single generation of the church. Within the space of a single

lifetime, at an expenditure of toil and treasure which it is idle to

attempt to compute, the wide and desolate wilderness, as fast as

civilization has invaded it, has been occupied by the church with

churches, schools, colleges, and seminaries of theology, with pastors,

evangelists, and teachers, and, in one way or another, has been

constrained to confess itself Christian. The continent which so short a

time ago had been compassionately looked upon from across the sea as

missionary ground has become a principal base of supplies, and

recruiting-ground for men and women, for missionary operations in

ancient lands of heathenism and of a decayed Christianity.

So much for the parallel. The divergence is not less impressive. In

contrast with the solid political unity into which the various and

incongruous elements have settled themselves, the unity of the Christian

church is manifested by oneness neither of jurisdiction nor of

confederation, nor even by diplomatic recognition and correspondence.

Out of the total population of the United States, amounting, according

to the census of 1890, to 62,622,000 souls, the 57,000,000 accounted as

Christians, including 20,000,000 communicant church-members, are

gathered into 165,297 congregations, assembling in 142,000 church

edifices containing 43,000,000 sittings, and valued (together with other

church property) at $670,000,000; and are served in the ministry of the

gospel by more than 111,000 ministers.[400:1] But this great force is

divided among 143 mutually independent sects, larger and smaller. Among

these sects is recognized no controlling and coördinating authority;

neither is there any common leadership; neither is there any system of

mutual counsel and concert. The mutual relations of the sects are

sometimes those of respect and good will, sometimes of sharp competition

and jealousy, sometimes of eager and conscientious hostility. All have

one and the same unselfish and religious aim--to honor God in serving

their fellow-men; and each one, in honestly seeking this supreme aim, is

affected by its corporate interests, sympathies, and antipathies.

This situation is too characteristic of America, and too distinctly

connected with the whole course of the antecedent history, not to be

brought out with emphasis in this concluding chapter. In other lands the

church is maintained, through the power of the civil government, under

the exclusive control of a single organization, in which the element of

popular influence may be wholly wanting, or may be present (as in many

of the Reformed polities) in no small measure. In others yet, through

government influence and favor, a strong predominance is given to one

organized communion, under the shadow of which dissentient minorities

are tolerated and protected. Under the absolute freedom and equality of

the American system there is not so much as a predominance of any one of

the sects. No one of them is so strong and numerous but that it is

outnumbered and outweighed by the aggregate of the two next to it. At

present, in consequence of the rush of immigration, the Roman Catholic

Church is largely in advance of any single denomination besides, but is

inferior in numerical strength and popular influence to the Methodists

and Baptists combined--if they were combined.

And there is no doubt that this comminution of the church is frankly

accepted, for reasons assigned, not only as an inevitable drawback to

the blessings of religious freedom, but as a good thing in itself. A

weighty sentence of James Madison undoubtedly expresses the prevailing

sentiment among Americans who contemplate the subject merely from the

political side: In a free government the security for civil rights must

be the same as that for religious rights. It consists, in the one case,

in the multiplicity of interests, and, in the other, in the multiplicity

of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number

of interests and sects.[402:1] And no student of history can deny that

there is much to justify the jealousy with which the lovers of civil

liberty watch the climbing of any sect, no matter how purely spiritual

its constitution, toward a position of command in popular influence. The

influence of the leaders of such a sect may be nothing more than the

legitimate and well-deserved influence of men of superior wisdom and

virtue; but when reinforced by the weight of official religious

character, and backed by a majority, or even a formidable minority, of

voters organized in a religious communion, the feeling is sure to gain

ground that such power is too great to be trusted to the hands even of

the best of men. Whatever sectarian advantage such a body may achieve in

the state by preponderance of number will be more than offset by the

public suspicion and the watchful jealousy of rival sects; and the

weakening of it by division, or the subordination of it by the

overgrowth of a rival, is sure to be regarded with general complacency.

It is not altogether a pleasing object of contemplation--the citizen and

the statesman looking with contentment on the schism of the church as

averting a danger to the state. It is hardly more gratifying when we

find ministers of the church themselves accepting the condition of

schism as being, on the whole, a very good condition for the church of

Christ, if not, indeed, the best possible. It is quite unreservedly

argued that the principle, Competition is the life of business, is

applicable to spiritual as well as secular concerns; and the

emulations reprobated by the Apostle Paul as works of the flesh are

frankly appealed to for promoting the works of the spirit. This debasing

of the motive of church work is naturally attended by a debasement of

the means employed. The competitive church resorts to strange business

devices to secure its needed revenue. He that giveth is induced to

give, not with simplicity, but with a view to incidental advantages,

and a distinct understanding is maintained between the right hand and

the left. The extent and variety of this influence on church life in

America afford no occasion for pride, but the mention of them could not

rightly be omitted. It remains for the future to decide whether they

must needs continue as an inevitable attendant on the voluntary system.

Sectarian divisions tend strongly to perpetuate themselves. The starting

of schism is easy and quick; the healing of it is a matter of long

diplomatic negotiations. In a very short time the division of the

church, with its necessary relations to property and to the employment

of officials, becomes a vested interest. Provision for large expenditure

unnecessary, or even detrimental, to the general interests of the

kingdom of Christ, which had been instituted in the first place at heavy

cost to the many, is not to be discontinued without more serious loss to

influential individuals. Those who would set themselves about the

healing of a schism must reckon upon personal and property interests to

be conciliated.

This least amiable characteristic of the growth of the Christian church

in America is not without its compensations. The very fact of the

existence, in presence of one another, of these multitudinous rival

sects, all equal before the law, tends in the long run, under the

influence of the Holy Spirit of peace, to a large and comprehensive

fellowship.[404:1] The widely prevalent acceptance of existing

conditions as probably permanent, even if not quite normal, softens the

mutual reproaches of rival parties. The presumption is of course

implied, if not asserted, in the existence of any Christian sect, that

it is holding the absolute right and truth, or at least more nearly that

than other sects; and the inference, to a religious mind, is that the

right and true must, in the long run, prevail. But it is only with a

high act of faith, and not as a matter of reasonable probability, that

any sect in America can venture to indulge itself in the expectation of

a supremacy, or even a predominance, in American Christendom. The

strongest in numbers, in influence, in prestige, however tempted to

assert for itself exclusive or superior rights, is compelled to look

about itself and find itself overwhelmingly outnumbered and outdone by a

divided communion--and yet a communion--of those whom Christ is not

ashamed to call his brethren; and just in proportion as it has the

spirit of Christ, it is constrained in its heart to treat them as

brethren and to feel toward them as brethren. Its protest against what

it regards as their errors and defects is nowise weakened by the most

unreserved manifestations of respect and good will as toward

fellow-Christians. Thus it comes to pass that the observant traveler

from other countries, seeking the distinctive traits of American social

life, notes a kindlier feeling between all denominations, Roman

Catholics included, a greater readiness to work together for common

charitable aims, than between Catholics and Protestants in France or

Germany, or between Anglicans and nonconformists in England.[405:1]

* * * * *

There are many indications, in the recent history of the American

church, pointing forward toward some higher manifestation of the true

unity of the church than is to be found in occasional, or even habitual,

expressions of mutual good will passing to and fro among sharply

competing and often antagonist sects. Instead of easy-going and playful

felicitations on the multitude of sects as contributing to the total

effectiveness of the church, such as used to be common enough on

anniversary platforms, we hear, in one form and another, the

acknowledgment that the divided and subdivided state of American

Christendom is not right, but wrong. Whose is the wrong need not be

decided; certainly it does not wholly belong to the men of this

generation or of this country; we are heirs of the schisms of other

lands and ages, and have added to them schisms of our own making. The

matter begins to be taken soberly and seriously. The tender entreaty of

the Apostle Paul not to suffer ourselves to be split up into

sects[405:2] begins to get a hearing in the conscience. The nisus

toward a more manifest union among Christian believers has long been

growing more and more distinctly visible, and is at the present day one

of the most conspicuous signs of the times.

Already in the early history we have observed a tendency toward the

healing, in America, of differences imported from over sea. Such was the

commingling of Separatist and Puritan in New England; the temporary

alliance of Congregationalist and Presbyterian to avert the imposition

of a state hierarchy; the combination of Quaker and Roman Catholic to

defeat a project of religious oppression in Maryland; the drawing

together of Lutheran and Reformed Germans for common worship, under the

saintly influence of the Moravian Zinzendorf; and the Plan of Union by

which New Englander and Scotch-Irishman were to labor in common for the

evangelization of the new settlements.[406:1] These were sporadic

instances of a tendency that was by and by to become happily epidemic. A

more important instance of the same tendency was the organization of

societies for charitable work which should unite the gifts and personal

labors of the Christians of the whole continent. The chief period of

these organizations extended from 1810, the date of the beginning of the

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, to 1826, when the

American Home Missionary Society was founded.[406:2] The catholic

basis on which they were established was dictated partly by the

conscious weakness of the several sects as they drew near to

undertakings formidable even to their united forces, and partly by the

glow of fraternal affection, and the sense of a common spiritual life

pervading the nation, with which the church had come forth from the

fervors of the second awakening.[406:3] The societies, representing

the common faith and charity of the whole church as distinguished from

the peculiarities of the several sects, drew to themselves the affection

and devotion of Christian hearts to a degree which, to those who highly

valued these distinctions, seemed to endanger important interests. And,

indeed, the situation was anomalous, in which the sectarian divisions of

the Christian people were represented in the churches, and their

catholic unity in charitable societies. It would have seemed more

Pauline, not to say more Christian, to have had voluntary societies for

the sectarian work, and kept the churches for Christian communion. It is

no wonder that High-church champions, on one side and another, soon

began to shout to their adherents, To your tents, O Israel! Bishop

Hobart played not in vain upon his pastoral pipe to whistle back his

sheep from straying outside of his pinfold, exhorting them, in their

endeavors for the general advancement of religion, to use only the

instrumentality of their own church.[407:1] And a jealousy of the

growing influence of a wide fellowship, in charitable labors, with

Christians of other names, led to the enunciation of a like doctrine by

High-church Presbyterians,[407:2] and contributed to the convulsive and

passionate rending of the Presbyterian Church, in 1837, into nearly

equal fragments. So effective has been the centrifugal force that of

the extensive system of societies which from the year 1810 onward first

organized works of national beneficence by enlisting the coöperation of

all evangelical Christians, the American Bible Society alone continues

to represent any general and important combination from among the

different denominations.

For all the waning of interest in the catholic basis societies, the

sacred discontent of the Christian people with sectarian division

continued to demand expression. How early the aspiration for an

ecumenical council of evangelical Christendom became articulate, it may

not be easy to discover[408:1] In the year 1846 the aspiration was in

some measure realized in the first meeting of the Evangelical Alliance

at London. No more mistakes were made in this meeting than perhaps were

necessarily incident to a first experiment in untried work. Almost of

course the good people began with the question, What good men shall we

keep out? for it is a curious fact, in the long and interesting history

of efforts after Christian union, that they commonly take the form of

efforts so to combine many Christians as to exclude certain others. In

this instance, beginning with the plan of including none but Protestant

Christians, they proceeded at once to frame a platform that should bar

out that great number of the best and holiest men in England who are

found among the Quakers, thus making up, designedly and with their

eyes open, a schismatic unity--a unity composed of one part of God's

elect, to the exclusion of another; and this in a grand effort after the

very unity of the body of Christ.[409:1] But in spite of this and other

like mistakes, or rather because of them (for it is through its mistakes

that the church is to learn the right way), the early and unsuccessful

beginnings of the Evangelical Alliance marked a stage in the slow

progress toward a manifestation of the sons of God by their love

toward each other and toward the common Lord.

It is in large part the eager appetency for some manifestation of

interconfessional fellowship that has hastened the acceptance of such

organizations as the Young Men's Christian Association and the Young

People's Society of Christian Endeavor; just as, on the other hand, it

is the conscientious fear, on the part of watchful guardians of

sectarian interests, that habitual fellowship across the boundary lines

of denominations may weaken the allegiance to the sect, which has

induced the many attempts at substituting associations constituted on a

narrower basis. But the form of organization which most comprehensively

illustrates the unity of the church is that Charity Organization which

has grown to be a necessity to the social life of cities and

considerable towns, furnishing a central office of mutual correspondence

and coördination to all churches and societies and persons engaged in

the Christian work of relieving poverty and distress. This central

bureau of charitable coöperation is not the less a center of catholic

fellowship for the fact that it does not shut its door against societies

not distinctively Christian, like Masonic fraternities, nor even against

societies distinctively non-Christian, like Hebrew synagogues and

societies of ethical culture. We are coming to discover that the

essence of Christian fellowship does not consist in keeping people out.

Neither, so long as the apostolic rubric of Christian worship[410:1]

remains unaltered, is it to be denied that the fellowship thus provided

for is a fellowship in one of the sacraments of Christian service.

A notable advance in true catholicity of communion is reported from

among the churches and scattered missions in Maine. Hitherto, in the

various movements of Christian union, it was common to attempt to disarm

the suspicions of zealous sectarians by urgent disclaimers of any intent

or tendency to infringe on the rights or interests of the several sects,

or impair their claim to a paramount allegiance from their adherents.

The Christians of Maine, facing tasks of evangelization more than

sufficient to occupy all their resources even when well economized and

squandering nothing on needless divisions and competitions, have

attained to the high grace of saying that sectarian interests must and

shall be sacrificed when the paramount interests of the kingdom of

Christ require it.[410:2] When this attainment is reached by other

souls, and many other, the conspicuous shame and scandal of American

Christianity will begin to be abated.

Meanwhile the signs of a craving for larger fellowship continue to be

multiplied. Quite independently of practical results achieved, the mere

fact of efforts and experiments is a hopeful fact, even when these are

made in directions in which the past experience of the church has

written up No Thoroughfare.

I. No one need question the sincerity or the fraternal spirit with which

some important denominations have each proposed the reuniting of

Christians on the simple condition that all others should accept the

distinctive tenet for which each of these denominations has contended

against others. The present pope, holding the personal respect and

confidence of the Christian world to a higher degree than any one of his

predecessors since the Reformation (to name no earlier date), has

earnestly besought the return of all believers to a common fellowship by

their acceptance of the authority and supremacy of the Roman see. With

equal cordiality the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church have

signified their longing for restored fellowship with their brethren on

the acceptance by these of prelatical episcopacy. And the Baptists,

whose constant readiness at fraternization in everything else is

emphasized by their conscientious refraining from the sacramental sign

of communion, are not less earnest in their desire for the unification

of Christendom by the general acceptance of that tenet concerning

baptism, the widespread rejection of which debars them, reluctant, from

unrestricted fellowship with the general company of faithful men. But

while we welcome every such manifestation of a longing for union among

Christians, and honor the aspiration that it might be brought about in

one or another of these ways, in forecasting the probabilities of the

case, we recognize the extreme unlikeliness that the very formulas which

for ages have been the occasions of mutual contention and separation

shall become the basis of general agreement and lasting concord.

II. Another indication of the craving for a larger fellowship is found

in the efforts made for large sectarian councils, representing closely

kindred denominations in more than one country. The imposing ubiquity of

the Roman Church, so impressively sustaining its claim to the title

Catholic, may have had some influence to provoke other denominations

to show what could be done in emulation of this sort of greatness. It

were wiser not to invite comparison at this point. No other Christian

organization, or close fellowship of organizations, can approach that

which has its seat at Rome, in the world-wideness of its presence, or

demand with so bold a challenge,

Quæ regio in terris non nostri plena laboris?

The representative assembly of any other body of Christians, however

widely ramified, must seem insignificant when contrasted with the real

ecumenicity of the Vatican Council. But it has not been useless for the

larger sects of Protestantism to arrange their international assemblies,

if it were for nothing more than this, that such widening of the circle

of practical fellowship may have the effect to disclose to each sect a

larger Christendom outside to which their fellowship must sooner or

later be made to reach.

The first of these international sectarian councils was that commonly

spoken of as the Pan-Anglican Synod, of Protestant Episcopal bishops

gathered at Lambeth by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in

1867 and thrice since. The example was bettered by the Presbyterians,

who in 1876 organized for permanence their Pam-Presbyterian Alliance,

or Alliance of the Reformed Churches throughout the world holding

the Presbyterian System. The first of the triennial general councils

of this Alliance was held at Edinburgh in 1877, representing more

than forty-nine separate churches scattered through twenty-five

different countries, and consisting of more than twenty thousand

congregations.[413:1] The second council was held at Philadelphia, and

the third at Belfast. The idea was promptly seized by the Methodists. At

the instance of the General Conference of the United States, a

Pam-Methodist Council was held in London in 1881,--the first Ecumenical

Methodist Conference,--consisting of four hundred delegates,

representing twenty-eight branches of Methodism, ten in the eastern

hemisphere and eighteen in the western, including six millions of

communicants and about twenty millions of people.[413:2] Ten years

later, in 1891, a second Methodist Ecumenical Conference was held at


Interesting and useful as this international organization of sects is

capable of being made, it would be a mistake to look upon it as marking

a stage in the progress toward a manifest general unity of the church.

The tendency of it is, on the whole, in the opposite direction.

III. If the organization of ecumenical sects has little tendency

toward the visible communion of saints in the American church, not much

more is to be hoped from measures for the partial consolidation of

sects, such as are often projected and sometimes realized. The healing

of the great thirty years' schism of the Presbyterian Church, in 1869,

was so vast a gain in ecclesiastical economy, and in the abatement of a

long-reeking public scandal and of a multitude of local frictions and

irritations, that none need wonder at the awakening of ardent desires

that the ten Presbyterian bodies still surviving might find room for

all within one fold[413:3] in a national or continental Presbyterian

Church. The seventeen Methodist bodies, separated by no differences of

polity or of doctrine that seem important to anybody but themselves, if

consolidated into one, would constitute a truly imposing body, numbering

nearly five millions of communicants and more than fifteen millions of

people; and if this should absorb the Protestant Episcopal Church (an

event the possibility of which has often been contemplated with

complacency), with its half-million of communicants and its elements of

influence far beyond the proportion of its numbers, the result would be

an approximation to some good men's ideal of a national church, with its

army of ministers coördinated by a college of bishops, and its plebs

adunata sacerdoti. Consultations are even now in progress looking

toward the closer fellowship of the Congregationalists and the

Disciples. The easy and elastic terms of internal association in each of

these denominations make it the less difficult to adjust terms of mutual

coöperation and union. Suppose that the various Baptist organizations

were to discover that under their like congregational government there

were ways in which, without compromising or weakening in the slightest

their protest against practices which they reprobate in the matter of

baptism, they could, for certain defined purposes, enter into the same

combination, the result would be a body of nearly five millions of

communicants, not the less strong for being lightly harnessed and for

comprehending wide diversities of opinion and temperament. In all this

we have supposed to be realized nothing more than friends of Christian

union have at one time or another urged as practicable and desirable. By

these few and, it would seem, not incongruous combinations there would

be four powerful ecclesiastical corporations,--one Catholic and three

Protestant,--which, out of the twenty millions of church communicants in

the United States, would include more than seventeen and one half


The pondering of these possibilities is pertinent to this closing

chapter on account of the fact that, as we near the end of the

nineteenth century, one of the most distinctly visible tendencies is the

tendency toward the abatement of sectarian division in the church. It is

not for us simply to note the converging lines of tendency, without some

attempt to compute the point toward which they converge. There is grave

reason to doubt whether this line of the consolidation or confederation

of sects, followed never so far, would reach the desired result.

If the one hundred and forty-three sects enumerated in the eleventh

census of the United States[415:2] should by successful negotiation be

reduced to four, distinguished each from the others by strongly marked

diversities of organization and of theological statement, and united to

each other only by community of the one faith in Jesus Christ, doubtless

it would involve some important gains. It would make it possible to be

rid of the friction and sometimes the clash of much useless and

expensive machinery, and to extinguish many local schisms that had been

engendered by the zeal of some central sectarian propaganda. Would it

tend to mitigate the intensity of sectarian competition, or would it

tend rather to aggravate it? Is one's pride in his sect, his zeal for

the propagation of it, his jealousy of any influence that tends to

impair its greatness or hinder its progress, likely to be reduced, or is

it rather likely to be exalted, by the consciousness that the sect is a

very great sect, standing alone for important principles? Whatever

there is at present of asperity in the emulous labors of the competing

denominations, would it not be manifold exasperated if the competition

were restricted to four great corporations or confederations? If the

intestine conflict of the church of Christ in America should even be

narrowed down (as many have devoutly wished) to two contestants,--the

Catholic Church with its diversity of orders and rites, on the one hand,

and Protestantism with its various denominations solidly confederated,

on the other,--should we be nearer to the longed-for achievement of

Christian union? or should we find sectarian animosities thereby raised

to the highest power, and the church, discovering that it was on the

wrong track for the desired terminus, compelled to reverse and back in

order to be switched upon the right one?

Questions like these, put to be considered, not to be answered, raise in

the mind the misgiving that we have been seeking in diplomatic

negotiations between high contracting parties that which diplomacy can

do only a little toward accomplishing. The great aim is to be sought in

humbler ways. It is more hopeful to begin at the lower end. Not in great

towns and centers of ecclesiastical influence, but in villages and

country districts, the deadly effects of comminuted fracture in the

church are most deeply felt. It is directly to the people of such

communities, not through the medium of persons or committees that

represent national sectarian interests, that the new commandment is to

be preached, which yet is no new commandment, but the old commandment

which they have had from the beginning. It cannot always be that sincere

Christian believers, living together in a neighborhood in which the

ruinous effects of division are plain to every eye, shall continue to

misapprehend or disregard some of the tenderest and most unmistakable

counsels of their Lord and his apostles, or imagine the authority of

them to be canceled by the authority of any sect or party of Christians.

The double fallacy, first, that it is a Christian's prime duty to look

out for his own soul, and, secondly, that the soul's best health is to

be secured by sequestering it from contact with dissentient opinions,

and indulging its tastes and preferences wherein they differ from those

of its neighbor, must sometime be found out and exposed. The discovery

will be made that there is nothing in the most cherished sermons and

sacraments and prayers that is comparable in value, as a means of grace,

with the giving up of all these for God's reign and righteousness--that

he who will save his soul shall lose it, and he who will lose his soul

for Christ and his gospel shall save it to life eternal. These centuries

of church history, beginning with convulsive disruptions of the church

in Europe, with persecutions and religious wars, present before us the

importation into the New World of the religious divisions and

subdivisions of the Old, and the further division of these beyond any

precedent in history. It begins to look as if in this strange work God

had been grinding up material for a nobler manifestation of the unity of

his people. The sky of the declining century is red with promise.

Hitherto, not the decay of religious earnestness only, but the revival

of it, has brought into the church, not peace, but division. When next

some divine breathing of spiritual influence shall be wafted over the

land, can any man forbid the hope that from village to village the

members of the disintegrated and enfeebled church of Christ may be

gathered together with one accord in one place not for the transient

fervors of the revival only, but for permanent fellowship in work and

worship? A few examples of this would spread their influence through the

American church until the whole was leavened.

The record of important events in the annals of American Christianity

may well end with that wholly unprecedented gathering at Chicago in

connection with the magnificent celebration of the four hundredth

anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus--I mean, of course,

the Parliament of Religions. In a land which bears among the nations the

reproach of being wholly absorbed in devotion to material interests, and

in which the church, unsupported and barely recognized by the state, and

unregulated by any secular authority, scatters itself into what seem to

be hopelessly discordant fragments, a bold enterprise was undertaken in

the name of American Christianity, such as the church in no other land

of Christendom would have had the power or the courage to venture on.

With large hospitality, representatives of all the religions of the

world were invited to visit Chicago, free of cost, as guests of the

Parliament. For seventeen days the Christianity of America, and of

Christendom, and of Christian missions in heathen lands, sat

confronted--no, not confronted, but side by side on the same

platform--with the non-Christian religions represented by their priests,

prelates, and teachers. Of all the diversities of Christian opinion and

organization in America nothing important was unrepresented, from the

authoritative dogmatic system and the solid organization of the Catholic

Church (present in the person of its highest official dignitaries) to

the broadest liberalism and the most unrestrained individualism. There

were those who stood aloof and prophesied that nothing could come of

such an assemblage but a hopeless jangle of discordant opinions. The

forebodings were disappointed. The diverse opinions were there, and were

uttered with entire unreserve. But the jangle of discord was not there.

It was seen and felt that the American church, in the presence of the

unchristian and antichristian powers, and in presence of those solemn

questions of the needs of humanity that overtask the ingenuity and the

resources of us all combined, was builded as a city that is at unity

with itself. That body which, by its strength of organization, and by

the binding force of its antecedents, might have seemed to some most

hopelessly isolated from the common sympathies of the assembly, like all

the rest was faithful in the assertion of its claims, and, on the other

hand, was surpassed by none in the manifestation of fraternal respect

toward fellow-Christians of other folds. Since those seventeen wonderful

September days of 1893, the idea that has so long prevailed with

multitudes of minds, that the only Christian union to be hoped for in

America must be a union to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic Church

and in antagonism to it, ought to be reckoned an idea obsolete and


* * * * *

The theme prescribed for this volume gives no opportunity for such a

conclusion as the literary artist delights in--a climax of achievement

and consummation, or the catastrophe of a decline and fall. We have

marked the sudden divulging to the world of the long-kept secret of

divine Providence; the unveiling of the hidden continent; the progress

of discovery, of conquest, of colonization; the planting of the church;

the rush of immigration; the occupation of the continent with Christian

institutions by a strange diversity of sects; the great providential

preparations as for some divine event still hidden behind the curtain

that is about to rise on the new century,--and here the story breaks off

half told.

* * * * *

To so many of his readers as shall have followed him to this last page

of the volume, the author would speak a parting word. He does not

deprecate the criticisms that will certainly be pronounced upon his

work by those competent to judge both of the subject and of the style of

it. He would rather acknowledge them in advance. No one of his critics

can possibly have so keen a sense as the author himself of his

incompetency, and of the inadequacy of his work, to the greatness of the

subject. To one reproach, however, he cannot acknowledge himself justly

liable: he is not self-appointed to a task beyond his powers and

attainments, but has undertaken it at the instance of eminent men to

whose judgment he was bound to defer. But he cannot believe that even

his shortcomings and failures will be wholly fruitless. If they shall

provoke some really competent scholar to make a book worthy of so great

and inspiring a theme, the present author will be well content.