A Sermon Delivered at Yardleyville, Bucks Co., PA, September 26, 1858

by Lucretia Mott

Reported Phonographically; published in The Liberator,
October 29, 1858

‘The kingdom of God is within us’, and ‘Christianity will not have performed  its office in the earth until its professors have learned to respect the rights and privileges of conscience, by a toleration without limit, a faith without contention.’ This is the testimony of one of the modern writers [Frederick J. Foxton, Popular Christianity: its Transition State, and Probable Development, 1849.]

And have we not evidence, both from our own religious records, and those of all the worshippers of all ages, that there has been this divine teaching acknowledged, in some way or another–that there is a religious instinct in the constitution of man, and that, according to the circumstances of his birth, of his education, of his exercise of his free agency, has this religious essence grown, and brought forth similar fruits, in every age of the world, among all peoples?

This has been likened, by various figures, emblems, parables, to things without us and around us. It has been variously interpreted, variously explained; for no nation has a spiritual language, exclusively such. We must therefore speak of our spiritual experiences in language having reference to spiritual things. And we find this has been the case, especially in the records of the Jews, the scriptures of Israel, and what are called Christian scriptures.’ They abound in emblems and parables.

This divine illumination is called ‘the spirit.’ It is said that ‘God breathed into man life, a spirit, his own image,’ which is spiritual, and he became a living soul. The after writers acknowledge this divine spirit – ‘Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct us.’

An idea has prevailed that the immortality of this spirit was not understood until about eighteen hundred years ago; but if we read the old scriptures intelligently, we shall find the acknowledgment of  its eternity, as well as its divine nature. ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.’ And these same writers, even though they were very much clouded, and the clearness of their views obscured by traditions, so that when Jesus came among them, he said, they ‘made the word of God of none effect by their traditions’; yet, the far-seeing among them acknowledged that these obscurities must pass away, and that the time should come when the divine light should be more clearly understood, ‘when thou shalt hear a voice behind thee saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.’ And it is spoken of sometimes as the ‘still small voice.’ It is spoken of again as a new covenant that should be made: ‘I will write my law in their hearts,’ the law of justice, mercy, forgiveness, that they should have no more need of the old proverb, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’‘But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,’ ‘in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.’ On the other hand, ‘when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, in the wickedness that he doeth shall he die.’

So we see that the teachings of this divine spirit have been the same in all ages. It has led to truth, to goodness, to justice, to love. Love was as much held up among these old writers, these old religious teachers, and as dearly set forth, as in the later day. [But] Their testimony fell upon ears that heard not, upon eyes that saw not, because they had closed their eyes, shut their ears, and hardened their hearts. They had substituted something else for this divine light; this word, which, in a still earlier day, Moses declared to his people was ‘nigh unto them, in the mouth, and in the heart.’

The truths of inspiration are the way of life, and he that walketh in the right shall grow stronger and stronger. These were the teachings of the light to walk uprightly; to act righteously; to be just; to be faithful. With the merciful, thou wilt show thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; with the pure, thou wilt show thyself pure: Believe not, then, that all these great principles were only known in the day of the advent of the Messiah to the Jews–these beautiful effects of doing right.

We should come to understand the divinity of this spirit, and its teachings to us now. I believe there is a growing understanding of it. It has been likened unto leaven, which was hid in the meal, ‘till the whole was leavened’; and also to the little seed that was sowed in the field, which became ‘the greatest among herbs.’ The word of God is life-giving, fruitful, and as it is received, it produces its own generation. Another beautiful figure is sometimes employed, the change in the physical being. We have first the little child; then the young man; then the strong man in the Lord. All these things we must read and accept intelligently, rationally.

Too long has the religious element been upheld to the veneration of man through some mystery whereby he could understand the growth of his own divine nature. [Yet], it needs no miracles. [Those] belong to darker times than ours. It is when we are wide awake, and capable of reading, reflecting, and receiving this ingrafted word, that we come to know the anointing that teacheth all things. And we shall not need that any man teach us. We shall come away from these false dependencies. We shall come to the source–the immediate access which we have made to the source of all truth, to the source of all good. I know this is merely regarded as the Quaker doctrine, the ignis fatuus [or illusion] of the Quakers, and it is every where spoken against. We know how it was treated in the early days of the Quakers. We know how the Son of God was received when he preached; and it was because his teachings led him to non-conformity with the rituals of the day. He was led to bear his testimony against the doctrines of the Scribes and Pharisees of his time.

All ecclesiastical history goes to assure us, that when there has been a sectarian standard raised, and a mere verbal theology and ceremonial performances instituted, good works have invariably been lowered. We all know how bitter the sectarian spirit has become–how hatred and antipathy have grown up among the people, and among people making the highest profession of the name of Jesus, who become horrified, shocked, if any shall deny what they are pleased to consider his divinity; and yet, if any speak of the fruits of obedience to the law of justice and of goodness in the soul, they brand it as mere morality, mere human benevolence, and the religion by which salvation is wrought [by works]. This is the tendency of sects, and it needeth a prophet to come forth declaring [that] your circumcisions, your false lights, to be of no avail. This has been the uniform condition of acceptance: the working of righteousness–doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God –and not in oblations and sacrifices.

And so, down to the present time, we see the same tendency and the same results. We need prophets among us, bold non-conformists, to come forth and say, ‘Verily, your baptisms are not the right tests; your communions are not the proper evidence of your intimate union with the Father and with the Son. What are your Sabbath-day observances but conventional rites? Verily, your silent meetings, your plain attire, your peculiar language –are they the rightful tests of your sound faith, your pure worship?’ No more than that of any other denomination.

We may take every denomination, and where we find them setting up their forms as an evidence of worship, above the pure acts of devotion to God manifested by love to the people –to the common children of God, the world over– wherever this is to be found, there is need of the right testimony to be borne. There is need, that we should say he is not a true Christian who is one outwardly. We need higher evidences, therefore, than now exist.

Christianity will not have performed its work in the earth, until its followers have learned to respect the rights and privileges of conscience, by a toleration without limit, a faith without contention.

What have we to do with granting to another a point, a belief, a doctrine? It is assumption. It leads to despotism. It has led to crucifixion; and it leads in the same direction now, as far as the customs of the times will admit. The name is cast out now, just as much as ever. And why is it? Because there is a verbal creed set up. Because there are doctrines fixed upon as being the essential requirements of believers. They assume that the scriptures are the word of God instead of taking them and ascertaining the uniform testimonies to righteousness and truth, as found in the various pages, and discriminating between these and the practices of those ancients, many of whom were semi-civilized, many of whom regarded their God as the God of war.

The scriptures should be read intelligently, so that we should not be going back to the example of those ancients as our authority for the present day. They do not justify that. I would not shock the religious feelings of any, but I would ask them to read their scriptures again, and see if they can find any authority for sustaining their actions, and especially such as have done injury to their fellow-beings and themselves.

Especially are they appealed to for sanctioning the use of wines and strong drinks, as our authority for the far-extending influence of these for evil among the children of men. So has it been the practice to cite the example of olden times in approval of the abomination of American slavery, as being a patriarchal institution. It is time that we should no longer err. We do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God, when we resort to this Bible to find authority for any thing that is wrong.

[Instead] we have a divine teaching to which we should adhere. The great principles of justice, love and truth are divinely implanted in the hearts of men. If we pay proper heed unto these, we shall have no occasion to go to the ancient practices to find authority for our actions in the present day.

We cannot help our opinions in these [speculative] matters; this is impossible. They grow up with us, and depend on circumstances, on our education, and immediate influences. [Likewise] We are justified in our skepticisms. It is our religious duty to be skeptical of the plans of salvation. The veneration of believers has been held to them by not allowing them to think. They have been afraid to exercise the test of enlightened reason which God has given them, lest they should be called infidels –should be branded with infidelity.

It is time the theology of the day passed away. And it has, to a great extent. It is modified. As an instance, we might refer to the New School Presbyterians; arraying themselves against the old Calvinistic doctrines. Others might be enumerated. The people now are ceasing to believe what their verbal creed teaches them. If there was a freedom and independence among them; such as the truth would give, they would be less trammelled. ‘If the truth shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’

[Yet] how few are made free by the truth! [Too many] are hampered by their undue adherence to the gloomy appendages of the church. I would not set a high opinion on the Catholic Church, the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Quaker, or any other. They all have their elements of goodness and they all have their elements of bondage; and if we yield obedience to them, we become subjects to them, and are brought under bondage. If we acknowledge this truth, and bow to it, we shall dare to show our dissent. We will let them alone, treating them with a toleration without limit, a faith without contention, with regard to their opinions.

The doctrines of Christianity are [also] perverted in order to sustain the doctrine of total depravity. [By accepting it] we take not to ourselves that which belongs to ourselves, [such as] the proper sense of the divine nature of man, in all its relations, first the anima1, next the intellectual, and then the spiritual, [these are] not properly understood. This is a beautiful trinity in the human being. We shall find ‘the glory of the natural to be one, and the glory of the spiritual another.’ [Rather] the general faith of Christians is to denounce the animal, and to build up a kind of new birth on this degradation. [Thus] we are erring, we are not acknowledging the divinity of all man’s instincts as we ought; and hence it is I deem it necessary to speak forth, and be branded with heresy. And believing this [‘beautiful trinity’], and asserting it before the people, I cannot feel that I am advocating a mere Quaker dogma. It is not a mere Quaker doctrine. In this latter day, we find it being regarded more and more by every sect, and by those who attach themselves to no religious denomination. They acknowledge this when it can be regarded free from the gloom of sect.

When we thus appeal to the teachings of the divine spirit, we shall find it to exist in every human breast. This is the revealed religion, and it is time that it was claimed as such. It is time that that which is regarded as mere morality should be preached as the everlasting, divine truth of God; and as it is shining in the hearts and minds of the children of men, and they come to receive it, they will behold its glory, and it will be the glory of the only spiritually begotten of the Father, dwelling in them as full of grace and of truth. They overlook it because of its simplicity.

There is an acknowledgment of the regenerating power of the eternal, so far as we may call it regeneration by application to natural things, without basing it on the assumption that the first birth is evil. Jesus said, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ But he spoke to those [among the] Jews, who did, no doubt, need to be born again, to die out of their old forms and ceremonies.

Well did he answer Nicodemus, who thought this such a miracle, ‘That which is horn of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ‘Ye must be born again.’

We may all admit, that if we receive the divine spirit, in its operations in our soul, there will be no mistake; it will be found a reprover of evil; and if we obey it, it will be regenerating in its nature. It will make us understand that which is spiritual, and to discriminate between that which is spiritual, without underrating the natural.

If we suffer the [sensual] propensities to have the mastery over us, we must reap the consequences. Look at slavery in our country; look at war. Whence come wars? ‘Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?’ If we attempt to govern ourselves and our feelings by these low principles, they, of course. will lead to evil, to wrong, to wickedness. The apostle says, ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ The natural man hath natural powers and abilities; the intellectual man hath powers differing from these; and the spiritual man knoweth not the propensities of the natural.

We are not to be regarded as denying the Scriptures, because we have read them [differently], and so learned Christianity [differently, unlike] many of the authors of the theological opinions of the day.

Men are too much wedded to these opinions. Women in particular have pinned their faith to ministers’ sleeve. They dare not rely on their own God-given powers of discernment. It is time that ye looked to these scriptures, and studied them rationally for yourselves and not follow the teaching which interprets them in support of wrong, instead of the right.

Women in the earliest days associated with men in carrying forward the great principles of truth, as advocated by that remarkable son of God. A Deborah arose, and Huldah, a prophetess. It was a woman who announced to the people of Samaria the advent of Christ: ‘Come see a man which told me all things whatsoever I did!’ And this induced the men to go forth ‘out of the city, unto him.’ And they said unto the woman, ‘now we have heard him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ.’ And the very first act of the day of Pentecost was to declare that the time would come when the spirit should be poured out upon women. Phoebe was a minister of Christ. Priestcraft has rendered the word [‘minister’] so as to apply [only] to man instead of woman. The degradation of the women of that day had its effect.

People should judge more intelligently than to take the practices of former times, and make them a test for practical Christianity of this day. ‘The kingdom of God is within us’; the ‘word is nigh, in the heart, and in the mouth.’ If any are so faithless as still to need outward corroborative testimony, they will find it in all ages, and from the earliest times, as recorded in the Bible. And this is the value of the scriptures among us. We have no right to go to them now to establish a creed or form. We cannot control our opinions; we cannot believe as we will: therefore belief is no virtue. We have not the power to control our being; it is by the circumstances around us, by our power of receiving, that we come to see, and to know, and believe; therefore we must make a different use of the Bible, in order to make it to us a book that is invaluable.

Goodness has been goodness in all ages of the world, justice, justice, and uprightness, uprightness. ‘I will make all my goodness pass before thee.’ This was a beautiful answer to Moses. This is the way that God manifests himself to his children. It has been so in every age. It is emphatically the case in the present day, which is marked by the advances that have been made in this generation. It is this which should be held up as an evidence that Christianity is being better understood; that the veneration of the people is being drawn away from undue observances of Sabbath days, of the worship of churches; that they are coming to judge in themselves what is right, when they are disposed to do this. How plentifully are the testimonies of the scriptures found to be in favor of the right, in all ages!

The fact, then, [is the work] that God has chosen is easily recognized: ‘To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.’ Jesus did not say, Blessed is the believer in the trinity; blessed is the believer in the popular scheme of salvation; blessed the believer in a mysterious divinity attached to himself.

He said nothing of the kind. He called them to judge of himself by his works. ‘If I do the right works, believe me and the Father also, for I come from the Father.’

‘Blessed,’ he said, ‘are the merciful; blessed the pure in heart; blessed the meek,’  – not the ‘meek’ that bow before sect. We must know a meekness that will make us ‘as bold as a lion,’ that we may proclaim righteousness, and reclaim this generation from its sins, and denounce this meekness before sect.

Jesus declared this by his life of goodness, of active righteousness, of pure morality, of sympathy for the poor. It is for the love of his principles that we should place him on the high pedestal that those who delight to worship him ceremonially want to do.

It is not strange that there should be atheism in the world, while such false ideas of God are inculcated in the hearts of the people. We cannot in any way come to the worship of God, by any of these fancied attributes, without humanizing him. Therefore, we must come to know him by our merciful acts, our pure, our upright conduct, our every-day righteousness, our goodness. We must come to be with him by declaring ‘woe unto the transgressor.’ We must not make compromises with injustice. If the mission of Jesus was so emphatically to bring ‘peace on earth and good will to men,’ we must endeavor to carry it out, and not place it away in the distance, in the ‘millennium.’ Why, the millennium is here; the kingdom of God has come.

This is what we want to preach. Oh that the fruits of this divine spirit should appear, which are love, peace, joy, goodness, truth; the spirit that is first gentle, pure, full of mercy, full of good fruits. Here is no disparagement of good works.

We forget the practical parts of the Bible, in our zeal for preaching up a religion that is, to do nothing. [It says] we must let war go on ‘until the millennium comes.’ In the olden time, they knew that war was wrong, and hence the far-seeing proclaimed the day when ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ They looked forward and prophetically proclaimed the day when the ‘King cometh, who is just, and having salvation.’ ‘And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle-bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the heathen; and his domination shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.’

If we are believers in this, and believe in the Messiah that came with such a beautiful announcement, it is time that we [who] love the name of Christ; should part with war, and leave nations to settle their disputes in some way that will put an end to the barbarism of war. It is abominable that we should retain it– that we should still have recourse to arms.

But the efforts for the dominion of peace are greater now than ever before. The very first message transmitted to us [by telegraph] across the Atlantic, by means of that mightiest instrument of men, the offspring of the divine, intellectual intelligence of men, wrought in our day, was a prophetic view of greater peace on earth. There is something so beautiful in this universal instinct of men for the right, that I am pained to know that people of intelligence, professing Christianity, should vouchsafe their assent to the duration of any of the relics of the dark ages.

Let us do away with these things. We need the faith that works by love, and purifies the heart. And sorrowful is it that the hearts of men should be turned from the right by the temptations that so easily beset them, and lead them to do injustice to their fellow men, binding him down to slavery.

Ah! The chains of human bondage! They should make everyone to blush and hang his head. Mournful is it that they should countenance the Sabbath day, and then, tomorrow, recognize a system by which their fellow-men are sold at the auction-block to the highest bidder. We should bear our testimony against the nefarious claim to the right to property in man: and the worst of this is, that we should hear this institution claimed as sanctioned by the Bible.

It is the grossest perversion of the Bible, and [yet] many ministers have thus turned over its pages so unworthily, to find testimonies in favor of slavery. ‘Woe unto him that useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.’ This is what we want to quote. And we are all guilty of the blood of our brother. The crime is national. We are all involved in it; and how can we go forth and profess to believe the faith of the Son of God, with all these great wrongs and evils clinging to us, and we upholding them?

Have we nothing to do with it? Everyone has a responsibility in it. We are called to bear our testimony against sin, of whatever form, in whatever way presented. And how are we doing it? By partaking of the fruits of the slave’s toil? Our garments are all stained with the blood of the slave.

Let us, then, be clean-handed. Seek to be so; and if we find the monstrous evil so interwoven with what we have to do, politically, commercially, by manufacturing interests, by our domestic relations, then so much the more need is there for our laboring.

Every church in the earth should be roused; every people, every profession, and interest. We find democratic, republican America clinging to slavery; and it will be found the last stronghold of the sin in the civilized world. ‘He that doeth truth cometh to the light’; but we have rejected the light of Christ.

We are told that the Lord, in his own time, is going to put an end to this thing. How, except in some way or other to defend the right? ‘Break ye the bands of wickedness’; ‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof: And because ye have not done so, ye shall fall victims to the plagues that are around you. Here is where we need faith, to know that we must reap the reward of our doings.

I have nothing to do with preaching to you about what we shall be [in the] hereafter. [Instead] we even now, by our obedience, come unto that kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We know something of an inheritance into that higher life where there is that communion with the Father, so that we can understand, as far as is given us to understand, that we may elevate ourselves above that which is mortal to that which immortal.

We need, therefore, this faith, which will make us believe and know, that if we do the wrong, we must receive for the wrong that we are doing; for there is no respect of persons with God, he ‘rewardeth every man according to his works’; and according to the fruits of his doings. God’s laws are eternal, and I wish there were more conscientious believers in the immutable laws of God.

It is impossible to hold any nation in slavery, when their minds shall be enlightened sufficiently to appreciate the blessings of liberty. When the sacred principles of truth come to be evolved to the understandings of the children of men, how will all your theologists sink before them! The rightful test, then, of the Christian character will be peace, and love, and justice, and a claim of greater equality among men. There will no longer be the lordly heel of a government trampling upon the children of men– no longer a high-bred aristocracy, exercising their exclusiveness– no longer an aspiring priesthood, bringing all under its spiritual domination.

It is time these things were understood: time that we should show how simple the religion of Jesus is. This was the highest theology uttered by Jesus:

‘By their fruits ye shall know them; The good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil bringeth forth that which is evil.’ The soil must be good, and the seed received must be cared for, so that it may produce its own. And what will it produce? Ah, what will it not produce, my young friends? Overlook not the truth of God. There is nothing that requires that ye should underrate your natural powers. Let them grow with your growth and become strengthened, and you will be made advocates of the right.

This is really a notable age, and we have to hail it that we have not to wait for a far-distant day for the kingdom of God to come. There is an advancement, and its influence is felt so much that the minister begins to be ashamed to turn over the leaves of the Bible to prove the wrong, rather than to find therein advocacy of the right. The young people ever hear truth gladly; in their hearts, there is an instinctive revolting from wrong. Did not the love of power abide to such an extent among us, there would be an instinctive revolt against slavery and wrong doing.

And see how the reformer can stand before the Bible and say, Ye tell us that ye treat the slave kindly; but I say unto you, hold no slaves at all. Do justice to the colored man. Do away with your infernal prejudices; they are infernal. This impure spirit, this wrong that ye indulge in, is not from above; it is earthly, sensual, devilish. A grave charge rests upon ye who countenance the wickedness of American slavery.

Public sentiment is changing. What though the political horizon may lower, believe me, the time is near,– the kingdom of God, of justice and mercy, is emerging, that will be for the salvation of the slave. Believe me, that the labors of a Beecher, an [Edward H.] Chapin, a [William Henry] Furness, a [William Lloyd] Garrison, and many other advocates of the right and true of our day, preceded by those of an [Elias] Hicks, a Thomas Clarkson, a [William] Wilberforce, and their confederates of former days, have not been in vain. God ever blesses the rightful laborer. ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they shall both be alike good.’ So, having thus gone forth, we see now how it is renovating, how it is purifying the church from its corruptions.

The temperance movement is likewise prospering. It has given evidence of great advancement in this day. War, too, is falling from its original foothold in the earth. There is greater delight manifested in right doing. The power of moral suasion is becoming better understood. These are good indications, and, with many others, they point to a happier and better state of things, the fruits of the ushering in of the great and glorious gospel, that which was to level distinctions, cause the highways to be straightened, and institute equality among men. Let that so be brought about that the reformer shall say to the poor, ‘Come up higher! Come up higher!’ thus awarding justice to these, and recognizing their rights, and their equality with themselves. The day is coming, it has come; ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’

The people flock more to hear moral discourses than to hear the preaching from the pulpit. This would not be the case were the preaching of the pulpit that of Jesus. There is a quick understanding in the fear of the Lord among the people, and I will trust the people. I have confidence in their intuitive sense of the right, of the good. It is this great heart of the people we are to preach unto, to proclaim liberty and truth, justice and right unto; and let it be done.

The immediate teaching of God’s holy spirit, inspiring love for the brethren, in us; inspiring a desire for the promotion of good, is your mission. Oh, it is your heavenly call; obey it, and look not for any thing marvellous. Obey it, my young friends! Come ye unto the harvest, and labor truly.

There is need to labor in a world lying in evil. There is need of preachers against the excesses of the age. There is need of preachers against the existing monopolies and banking institutions, by which the rich are made richer, and the poor poorer. Thou, oh man of God, flee these things and follow that which is right! It is contrary to the spirit of this Republic that any should be so rich. Let this blessed Christian equality prevail.

Let us have a Republic that shall be marked by its Christian principles; and by its Christian, I mean its universally right principles. These are eternal; divine in their origin, and eternal in their nature. Let us have faith in these, and then let us believe that the ‘kingdom of God is within us,’ and that Christianity will not have performed its office in the earth, until the believers have learned to respect its rights and privileges, by a toleration without limits, a faith without contention.

That faith will fill the heart with holy joy. Thanksgiving will come up from such a heart, and there will be an entering into the joy of the Lord, acknowledging that he is good; that his mercy is everlasting; and that his truth endureth

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