John Quincy Adams, founding father, sixth president of the United States, looks over your shoulder at the morning newspaper and contrasts the two opposing spiritual forces between which war must rage for yet another generation. While his language may offend today’s postmodern sensibilities, it is the vernacular of the men who loved Christ and cherished freedom—the mighty men who secured our liberty.
In the reign of Octavius Caesar, master of Rome, then mistress of the world, there appeared, in a small and obscure province of the Roman empire, a man of humble birth, yet lineally descended from the kings of Judea; born in the stable of an inn, yet born of a virgin, and announced to the world by the voice of angels as the Saviour of mankind. The result of his appearance upon earth was then declared by a multitude of the heavenly host to be, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward man.” This Man was the mediator of a new covenant between God and men. He was the founder of a new religion.
He proclaimed, by a special revelation from heaven, the immortality of the human soul, and a future state of retribution, and the responsibility of man hereafter, for the deeds done in the body.
And He declared that the enjoyment of felicity in the world hereafter would be the reward of the practice of benevolence here. His whole law was resolvable into the precept of love; peace on earth—good will to man, was the earthly object of his mission; and the authoritative demonstration of the immortality of man was that which constituted the more than earthly tribute of glory to God in the highest.
Such was the doctrine destined, by its internal power, to subdue the masters of the world. Such was the kingdom founded upon a rock, against which He declared, that the gates of hell should not prevail.
But by what means, to what extent, through what vicissitudes, against what obstructions, and within the compass of what time, the Christian dispensation is to have its entire sway upon the moral and religious condition of the human family, it is not within the purposes of Divine Providence to reveal. The prediction, that the gates of hell should not prevail, was a prophecy no less clear than that the gates of hell should be armed against it. That it should make its way against all the powers of earth, as well as against Beelzebub, the prince of devils, was with equal explicitness announced. Persecution, sufferance, and death were freely held out, as the destiny of those who should devote themselves to preach the gospel of glad tidings to man. The Lord of glory was himself a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. So little in harmony were his doctrines and their first-fruits, that he expressly warned his disciples that he came not to send peace on earth, but a sword; and the first pledge of the universal triumph of the religion of Jesus was over the unsocial passions of his disciples. It elevated the standard of the human character in the scale of existence.* The Christian was taught, that the end of his being on earth was the salvation of his soul hereafter. Compounded of never-dying spirit, and of perishable matter, he was taught to subdue his earthly passions; to purify his spirit by repentance; to give his immortal part entire control over the lusts of the flesh; to overcome the world of his own vices, and to sacrifice the earthly pleasures of sense to the spiritual joys of eternity. On the Christian spirit of morals, man is an immortal spirit, confined for a short space of time in an earthly tabernacle. Kindness to his fellow-mortals embraces the whole compass of his duties upon earth, and the whole promise of happiness to his spirit hereafter. The essence of this doctrine is, to exalt the spiritual over the brutal part of his nature.
Such was the doctrine of Jesus. But in revealing this system of morals to man, it was not the design of Providence to change his nature. It left him as he had been created—left him with all the passions and propensities of his degenerate condition since the fall. It was consistent with the Divine purpose that the operation of this system should be slow and gradual; that its conflict with the powers of the earth should be long protracted; that it should be perverted by heresies and schisms; that it should be encumbered with the most portentous and incredible absurdities; that it should be for centuries oppressed and persecuted; and that after having overcome principalities and powers, and, in defiance of Roman despotism, seated itself upon the throne of the Caesars, it should encounter the shock of a vile and sordid imposture. It was consistent with the Divine purpose that, by the operation of this system, all these should be slowly and gradually overcome.
In the seventh century of the Christian era a wandering Arab, of the lineage of Hagar, the Egyptian, combining the powers of transcendent genius with the preternatural energy of a fanatic and the fraudulent spirit of an impostor, proclaimed himself as a messenger from Heaven, and spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of the earth. Adopting, from the sublime conception of the Mosaic law, the doctrine of one omnipotent God, he connected indissolubly with it the audacious falsehood, that he was himself his prophet and apostle. Adopting, from the new revelation of Jesus, the faith and hope of immortal life, and of future retribution, he humbled it to the dust by adapting all the rewards and sanctions of his religion to the gratification of the sexual passion. He poisoned the sources of human felicity at the fountain, by degrading the condition of the female sex, and the allowance of polygamy; and he declared undistinguishing and exterminating war as a part of his religion against all the rest of mankind. The essence of his doctrine was violence and lust; to exalt the brutal over the spiritual part of human nature.
Between these two religions, thus contrasted in their characters, a war of more than twelve hundred years has already raged. That war is yet flagrant; nor can it cease but by the extincture of that imposture, which has been permitted by Providence to prolong the degeneracy of man. While the merciless and dissolute are encouraged to furnish motives to human action, there never can be peace on earth and good will toward men. The hand of Ishmael will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.*
*Bold text is the editor’s emphasis: all other non-standard formatting is original to the 1830 article.
John Quincy Adams, “Unsigned essays dealing with the Russo-Turkish War, and on Greece”, written while JQA was in retirement, before his election to Congress in 1830, originally published in The American Annual Register for 1827-28-29 (New York, 1830), Chapters X–XIV: 267–402. Excerpts taken from the reprinted article in The United States Democratic Review, Vol. 36, No. 5 (November, 1855), 375–380. View the complete article on the Web: Making of America, Cornell University. http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=AGD1642-0036-95
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