“Sentiment and Character” The American Sentinel 5, 29, pp. 229, 230.

IT is often said that laws, to be effective, must be backed up by public sentiment. This is true only where such sentiment is the genuine reflection of solidly built character. Character excels sentiment as far as light excels darkness. Sentiment is as capricious as the winds; rightly built character is as fixed as the hills. It is easy enough to create sentiment; it is a task to build up character. Sentiment can be created in a day; it requires time and careful training to build up character. Therefore it is only when sentiment is the genuine reflection of rightly built character, that it is worth anything in support of law or anything else. When sentiment predominates over character, and so runs to sentimentalism, it will support anything that is popular or fashionable, and is therefore worthless, if not worse than worthless. For instance, when in his old age Louis XIV. became religious, it was his will likewise that all others should be religious. He therefore required all about him to observe the duties enjoined by the church. Those who showed themselves conspicuously pious were rewarded “with blue ribands, invitations to Marli, governments, pensions, and regiments.” The result is thus described:—

Forthwith Versailles became, in everything but dress, a convent. The pulpits and confessionals were surrounded by swords and embroidery. The marshals of France were much in prayer; and there was hardly one among the dukes and peers who did not carry good little books in his pocket, fast during Lent, and communicate at Easter. Madame de Maintenen, who had a great share in the blessed work, boasted that devotion had become quite the fashion.

That was sentiment; but there was no [230] properly formed character to support it. The character that lay behind the sentiment was shameful; and character, whatever it be, will assert itself in the long run. That influence which formed the sentiment was no sooner broken than the whole “blessed work” was more than undone. The sequel is thus told:—

A fashion indeed it was; and like a fashion it passed away. No sooner had the old king been carried to St. Denis, than the whole court unmasked. Every man hastened to indemnify himself, by the excess of licentiousness and impudence, for years of mortification. The same persons who, a few months before, with meek voices and demure looks, had consulted divines about the state of their souls, now surrounded the midnight tables where, amidst the bounding of champagne corks, a drunken prince, enthroned between Dubois and Madame Parabere, hiccoughed out atheistical arguments and obscene jest. The early part of the reign of Louis XIV. had been a time of license; but the most dissolute men of that generation would have blushed at the orgies of the Regency.

The Puritan Parliament tried the same thing in England, and with the same result. It was resolved “that no person shall be employed but such as the House shall be satisfied of his real godliness.” “And the consequence was that a crowd of impostors, in every walk of life, began to mimic and to caricature what were then regarded as the outward signs of sanctity…. The Restoration crushed for a time the Puritan party, and placed supreme power in the hands of a libertine. The political counter-revolution assisted the moral counter-revolution, and was in turn assisted by it. A period of wild and desperate dissoluteness followed. Even in remote manor houses and hamlets the change was in some degree felt; but in London the outbreak of debauchery was appalling.”

These examples teach the important truth that, law without character to sustain it is of no value. And with this belongs the other equally important truth that the only legitimate and proper work of the Church is not the making of laws, but the building up of sound and symmetrical character.

Let the churches of the United States learn this lesson and practice it, and they will do far better than they can do by all the efforts that they can ever make to secure the enactment of Sunday laws or any other.

A. T. J.

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