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ture! Nay, what a library it still is to us all now! Within what other covers have ever been comprised such diversified stores of entertainment and instruction, such inexhaustible mines of knowledge and wisdom!
The oldest of all books, as in part it certainly is; the most common of all books, as the efforts of these associations have now undoubtedly made it; how truly may we say of it, that
age cannot wither, nor custom stale its infinite variety!” The world, which seems to outgrow successively all other books, finds still in this an ever fresh adaptation to every change in its condition and every period in its history. Now, as a thousand years ago, it has lessons alike for individuals and for nations; for rulers and for people ; for monarchies and for republics; for times of stability and for times of overthrow; for the rich and the poor ; for the simplest and the wisest.
Whatever is most exquisite in style, whatever is most charming in narrative, whatever is most faithful in description, whatever is most touching in pathos, whatever is most sublime in imagery, whatever is most marvellous in incident, whatever is most momentous in import, find here alike and always their unapproached and unapproachable original.
It was but a day or two since that I was reading that the great German poet, Goethe, had said of the little book of Ruth, that there was nothing so lovely in the whole range of epic or idyllic poetry. It was but yesterday that I was reading the tribute of the no less distinguished Humboldt to the matchless fidelity and grandeur of the Hebrew lyrics, in the course of which he speaks of a single Psalm (the 104th) as presenting a picture of the entire Cosmos. I have heard that our own Fisher Ames, who has left behind him a reputation for eloquence hardly inferior to that of any American Orator either of his own day or of ours, was accustomed to say that he owed more of the facility and felicity of his diction to the Bible, and particularly to the book of Deuteronomy, than to any other source, ancient or modern.
Indeed, Sir, the art, the literature, and the eloquence of all countries and of all times, have united in paying a common homage to the Bible. It has inspired the noblest strains of
music and the loftiest triumphs of the painter. Where would be the harmonies of the great composers, where would be the galleries of the old masters, without the subjects with which the Bible has supplied them?
Other books, I know, both in ancient and modern times, have received striking tributes to their genius, their ability, their novelty, their fascination. It will never be forgotten by the admirers of Homer, that Alexander the Great carried the Iliad always about with him in a golden casket. It will never be forgotten by the eulogists of Grotius, that Gustavus Adolphus, in the war which he waged in Germany for the liberty of Protestant Europe, slept always with the treatise De Jure Belli ac Pacis on bis pillow. But how many caskets and how many pillows have borne testimony to the Bible! Yes, Sir, of heroes and conquerors, not less mighty than the Macedonian or the Swede; and not of those only who have been called to wrestle against flesh and blood, but of those who have contended “ against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," and who have found in this holy volume, as in the very armory of Heaven, " the sword of the Spirit, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, by which they have been able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
I perceive, Mr. President, how impossible it is to separate the influence of the Bible as a mere book, from that which it owes to its divine character and origin. And they ought not to be separated. Unquestionably, it is as containing the word of God, the revelation of immortality, the gospel of salvation, that the Bible presents its preëminent title to the affection and reverence of the world. And it is in this view above all others, that its universal distribution becomes identified with the highest temporal and eternal interests of the human race.
I say, with the highest temporal, as well as eternal interests of the human race; and I desire to dwell for a single moment longer, on the inseparable connection of the work in which this and other kindred associations are engaged, with the advancement of civilization, with the elevation of mankind, and with the establishment and maintenance of Free Institutions. I desire, especially, to express the opinion, which I have been led of late to cherish daily and deeply, — that every thing in the character of our own institutions, and every thing in the immediate condition of our own country, calls for the most diligent employment of all the moral and religious agencies within our reach, and particularly for increased activity in the distribution of the Bible.
Mr. President, there is a striking coincidence of dates in the history of our country, and in the history of the Bible. You remember that it was about the year 1607, that King James the First, of blessed memory for this if for nothing else, gave it in charge to fifty or sixty of the most learned ministers of his realm, to prepare that version of the Holy Scriptures, which is now everywhere received and recognized among Protestant Christians as the Bible. This version was finally published in 1611, and it is from this event that the general diffusion of the Bible may fairly be said to date.
The Bible had, indeed, been more than once previously translated and previously printed. During the two preceding centuries, there had been Wickliff's version, and Tyndale's version, and Coverdale's version, and Cranmer's version, and the Geneva Bible, and the Douay Bible, and I know not what others; and they had all been more or less extensively circulated and read, in manuscript or in print, in churches and in families, sometimes under the sanction, and sometimes in defiance of the civil and spiritual authorities.
I doubt not that many of my hearers will remember the vivid picture which Dr. Franklin has given us, in his autobiography, of the manner in which the Bible was read during a portion of this period. Some of his progenitors, it seems, in the days of bloody Mary, were the fortunate possessors of an English Bible, and to conceal it the more securely, they were driven, he tells us “ to the project of fastening it open with pack threads across the leaves, on the inside of the lid of the close-stool.”
“ When my great-grandfather (he proceeds) wished to read the Bible to his family, he reversed the lid of the stool upon his knees, and passed the leaves from one side to the other, which were held down on each by the pack thread. One of the child
ren was stationed at the door to give notice if he saw the proctor (an officer of the spiritual court) make his appearance; in that case, the lid was restored to its place, with the Bible concealed under it as before."
It is plain, that however precious the Bible must have been to those who possessed it in those days, and however strong the influence which it may have exerted over individual minds, it had little chance to manifest its power over the masses, under circumstances like these. Indeed, the whole number of printed Bibles in existence in Great Britain, up to the commencement of the seventeenth century, is estimated at only about one hundred and seventeen thousand; - a little more than one fifth the number distributed by the American Bible Society, and only a little more than one tenth the number distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society, during the single year last past.
It is, thus, only from the publication of the authorized and standard version of King James, that the general diffusion of the Holy Scriptures can be said to have commenced. It was then that the printed word of God “first began to have free course and to be glorified.” And that, you remember, Mr. President, was the very date of the earliest settlement of these North American Colonies. It was just then, that the Cavaliers were found planting themselves at Jamestown in Virginia; and it was just then, that the Pilgrims, with the Bible in their hands, were seen flying over to Leyden, on their way to our own Plymouth Rock.
And now, Sir, it is not more true, in my judgment, that the first settlement of our country was precisely coincident in point of time, with the preparation and publication of this standard version of the Bible, than it is that our free institutions have owed their successful rise and progress thus far, and are destined to owe their continued security and improvement in time to come, to the influences which that preparation and publication could alone have produced.
The voice of experience and the voice of our own reason speak but one language on this point. Both unite in teaching us, that men may as well build their houses upon the sand and expect to see them stand, when the rains fall, and the winds blow, and the floods come, as to found free institutions upon any other basis than that morality and virtue, of which the Word of God is the only authoritative rule, and the only adequate sanction.
All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.
And never more loudly than at this moment have these institutions of ours called for such support. The immense increase of our territorial possessions, with the wild and reckless spirit of adventure which they have brought with them; the recent discovery of the gold mines of California, with the mania for sudden acquisition, for “making haste to be rich,” which it has everywhere excited; the vast annual accession to our shores of nearly half a million of foreigners, so many of whom are without any other notion of liberty, at the outset, than as the absence of all restraint upon their appetites and passions;- - who does not perceive in all these circumstances that our country is threatened, more seriously than it ever has been before, with that moral deterioration, which has been the unfailing precursor of political downfall ? And who is so bold a believer in any system of human checks and balances as to imagine, that dangers like these can be effectively counteracted or averted in any other way, than by bringing the mighty moral and religious influences of the Bible to bear in our defence.
As patriots, then, no less than as Christians, Mr. President, I feel that we are called upon to unite in the good work of this Association. And let us rejoice that it is a work in which we can all join hands without hesitation or misgiving. There is no room here, I thank heaven, for differences of parties or of sects. There is no room here for controversies about systems or details. Your machinery is of all others the most simple. Your results