By William E. Channing (1780-1842); grandson of William Ellery (1727-1827), a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.
I found this reading in another one of the McGuffey Readers (see yesterday’s meditation). This one is from the 1879 edition of McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader. The ‘fourth’ does not mean fourth grade, but fourth level. There were Readers for six levels, so this fourth reader was probably written for ages 14-16, but the age group for the upper levels varied widely.
Religion is a social concern for it operates powerfully on society, contributing, in various ways, to its stability and prosperity. Religion is not merely a private affair. The community is deeply interested in its diffusion, for it is the best support of the virtues and principles, on which the social order rests. Pure and undefiled religion is to do good, and so it follows very plainly, that if God be the Author and Friend of society, then the recognition of Him must enforce all social duty, and enlightened piety must give its whole strength to public order.
Few people suspect the extent of the support given by religion to every virtue. Few are aware of how much our moral and social sentiments are fed from this fountain; how powerless conscience would become without the belief of a God; and how crippled would be human benevolence were there not the sense of a higher benevolence to quicken and sustain it. Few comprehend how suddenly the whole social fabric would quake, and with what a fearful crash it would sink into hopeless ruin, if the ideas of a supreme Being, of accountability, and of a future life, to be utterly erased from every mind.
Let people thoroughly believe that they are the work and sport of chance; that no superior intelligence concerns itself with human affairs; that the weak have no guardian and the injured no avenger; that there is no recompense for sacrifices to uprightness and the public good; that an oath is unheard in heaven; that secret crimes have no witness but the perpetrator; that human existence has no purpose and human virtue no unfailing friend; that this brief life is everything to us, and death is total, everlasting extinction;– once let everyone thoroughly abandon religion, and who can conceive or describe the extent of the desolation which would follow.
We hope, perhaps, that human laws and natural sympathy would hold society together. As reasonably might we believe, that were the sun quenched in the heavens, our torches would illuminate, and our fires quicken and fertilize the creation. What is there in human nature to awaken respect and tenderness, if man is the unprotected insect of a day? And what more are we if atheism be true?
Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man. Appetite, knowing no restraint, and suffering, having no solace or hope, would trample in scorn on the restraints of human laws. Virtue, duty, principle, would be mocked and spurned as unmeaning sounds. A sordid self-interest would supplant every other feeling ; and man would become in fact, what the theory of atheism declares him to be– a mere animal and thus, a companion for brutes.
Psalm 33:12a — Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.
Isaiah 33:6 — (The Lord) will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.
Matthew 5:14-16 — (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Titus 3:1-2 — Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
I Timothy 2:1-4 — I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Galatians 5:13 — My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.
A PRAYER FOR THE NATION from The Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.