The Abominations of Modern Society

T. De Witt Talmage, Brooklyn, January 1st, 1872

The House of Blackness of Darkness

Men like to hear the frailties and faults of others rebuked. With what attention do they sit and hear the religious teacher excoriate the ambition of Ahab, the treachery of Judas, the treason of Athaliah, and the wickedness of the Amalekites! Indeed, I have sometimes felt sorry for the Amalekites, for in all ages, and on all occasions, they are smitten, denounced, and pursued. They have had their full share of censure and excoriation. It is high time that in our addresses in pulpits, and in domestic circles, we turn our attention to the driving out of these worse Amalekites which are swarming in society today, thicker than in the olden time. The ancient Amalekites lived for one or two hundred years; but these are not weakened after a thousand years. Those traversed only a few leagues of land; these stalk the earth and ford the sea. Those had each a sword or spear; these fight with a million swords, and strike with a million stings, and smite with a million catastrophes. Those were conquered with human weapons; but to overcome these we must bring out God's great artillery, and employ weapons which can sweep from eternity to eternity.

There is one subject which we are expected, in all our teachings, to shun, or only to hint at: the wickedness of an impure life. Though God thunders against this appalling iniquity from the heavens curse after curse, anathema after anathema, by our unwillingness to repeat the divine utterance we seem to say, "Lord, not so loud! Speak about everything else; but if this keeps on there will be trouble!" Meanwhile the foundations of social life are being slowly undermined; and many of the upper circles of life have putrefied until they have no more power to rot. If a fox comes down to the farmyard and carries off a chicken—the whole family joins in the search. If a panther comes down into the village and carries off a child—the whole neighborhood goes out with clubs and guns to bring it down. But this monster-crime goes forth, carrying off body and soul; and yet, if we speak, a thousand voices bid us be silent.

I shall try to cut to the vitals of the subject, and proceed with the post-mortem of this carcass of death. It is time to speak on this subject. All the indignation of this sin is hurled upon woman's head. If, in an evil hour, she sacrifices her honor—the whole town goes howling after her. She shall take the whole blame. Out with her from all decent circles! Whip her. Flay her. Bar all the doors of society against her return. Set on her all the blood-hounds. Shove her off precipice after precipice. Push her down. Kick her out! If you see her struggling on the waves, and with her blood-tipped fingers clinging to the verge of respectability, drop a mill-stone on her head! For a woman's sin, men have no mercy; and the heart of other women is more cruel than death. For her, in the dark hour of her calamity, the women who, with the same temptation, might have fallen into deeper damnation, have no commiseration and no prayer. The heaviest stroke that comes down upon a fallen woman's soul is the merciless indignation of her sisters.

If the multitudes of the fallen could be placed in a straight line, it would reach from here to the gates of hell, and back again. But what of the destroyer? We take his arm. We flatter his appearance. We take off our hats. He is admitted to our parlors. For him we cast our votes. For him we speak our eulogies. And when he has gone we read over the heap of compost: "Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord. They rest from their labors and their works do follow them."

In the fashionable city today, there walk a thousand unchaste men. They are a moving pest. Their breath is the sirocco of the desert. Their bones have in them the decay of the pit. They have the eye of a basilisk. They have been soaked in filth, and steeped in immorality, and consumed in sin, and they are all adrip with the loathsomeness of eternal death! I take hold of the robe of one of these elegant gentlemen, and pull it aside, and say, "Behold—a filthy leper!"

First, if you desire to shun this evil, you will have nothing to do with bad books and impure newspapers. With such immoral literature as is coming forth from our swift-revolving printing-presses, there is no excuse for dragging one's self through sewers of unchastity. Why walk in the ditch, when right beside the ditch is the solid ground? It seems that in the literature of the day the ten plagues of Egypt have returned, and the frogs and lice have hopped and skipped over our parlor tables. Waiting in the house of some parishioner, I have picked up a book from the parlor table, and found that every leaf was a scale of leprosy. Parents are delighted to have their children read—but they should be sure as to what they read. You do not have to walk a day or two in an infected district to get the cholera or typhoid fever; and one wave of moral unhealth will fever and blast an immortal nature.

Perhaps, knowing not what you did, you read a bad book. Do you not remember it altogether? Yes! and perhaps you will never get over it. However strong and exalted your character—never read a bad book! By the time you get through the first chapter, you will see the drift. If you find the hoof-prints of the devil in the pictures, or in the style, or in the plot—away with it! You may tear your coat, or break a vase, and repair them again—but the point where the rip or fracture took place, will always be evident. But it takes less than an hour to do your heart a damage—which no time can entirely repair!

Look carefully over your child's library; see what book it is that he reads after he has gone to bed, with the light turned upon the pillow. Do not always take it for granted that a book is good because it is a Sunday-school book. As far as possible know who wrote it, who illustrated it, who published it, who sold it. Young man, as you value Heaven, never buy a book from one of those men who meet you in the square, and, after looking both ways, to see if the police are watching, shows you a book—very cheap. Have him arrested—as you would kill a rattle-snake. Grab him, and shout "Police! police!"

But there is more danger, I think, from many of the family newspapers, published once a week; in those stories of vice and shame, full of evil suggestions, going as far as they can without exposing themselves to the clutch of the law. I name none of them; but say that on some fashionable tables there lie "family newspapers" which are the very vomit of the pit.

The way to ruin is cheap. It costs three dollars to go to Philadelphia; six dollars to Boston; thirty-three dollars to Savannah; but, by the purchase of a bad paper for ten cents—you may get a ticket straight to hell, by express, with few stopping-places! And the final stop is like the tumbling of the express train over a bridge--sudden, dreadful, deathful, never to rise.

O, the power of an iniquitous pen! If a needle punctures the body at a certain point, life is destroyed. But the pen is a sharper instrument, for with its puncture you may kill the soul. And that very thing many of our acutest minds are today doing. Do not think that that which you find fascinating and entertaining, is therefore healthful. Some of the worst poisons are pleasant to the taste. The pen which for the time fascinates you, may be dipped in the slime of impure hearts.

Look out for the books that come from France. It has sent us some grand histories, poems, and pure novels—but they are few in number compared with the nastiness that it has spewed out upon our shore. Do we not read in our Bibles that the ancient flood covered all the earth? I would have thought that France had escaped, for it does not seem as if it had ever had a thorough washing.

In the next place, if you would shun an impure life, avoid those who indulge in impure conversation. There are many people whose chief mirthfulness is in that line. They are full of innuendo, and phrases of double meaning, and are always picking out of the conversation of decent men, something vilely significant. It is astonishing in company, how many, professing to be Christians, will tell vile stories; and that some Christian women, in their own circles, have no hesitation at the same style of talking.

You take a step down hill, when, without resistance, you allow anyone to put into your ear a vile innuendo. If, forgetting who you are, any man attempts to say such things in your presence, let your better nature assert itself, look the offender full in the face, and ask—"What do you mean by saying such a thing in my presence!" Better allow a man to smite you in the face—than to utter such filthy conversation before you! I do not care who the men or women are, who utter impure thoughts; they are guilty of a mighty wrong; and their influence upon our young people is malevolent. If in the club where you associate; if in the social circle where you move, you hear depraved conversation, fly for your life!

A man is no better than his talk; and no man can have such interviews without being scarred. I charge our young men against considering impurity more tolerable, because it is sanctioned by the customs, habits, and practices of what is called 'fashionable'. If this sin wears kid gloves, and patent leathers, and coat of exquisite fit, and carries an opera-glass of costliest material, and lives in a big house, and rides in a splendid carriage—is it to be any the less reprehended? No! No! I warn you not so much against the abomination which hides in the lower courts and alleys of the town—as against the more damnable vice which hides behind the white shutters and brownstone bricks of the upper classes.

God, once in a while, hitches up the fiery team of vengeance, and ploughs up the splendid impurity—and we stand aghast. Sin, crawling out of the ditch of poverty and shame, has but few temptations; but, gliding through the glittering drawing-room with magnificent robe, it draws the stars of heaven after it. Poets and painters have portrayed Satan as a hideous creature, with horns and hoofs. If I were a poet, I would describe him with manners polished to the last perfection, hair flowing in graceful ringlets, eye glistening with splendor; hands soft and diamonded; step light and graceful; voice mellow as a flute; boot elegantly shaped; conversation eloquent, carefully toned, and Frenchy; breath perfumed until it would seem that nothing had ever touched his lips, but balm and myrrh. But his heart I would encase with the scales of a monster, then filled with pride, with beastliness of lust, with recklessness, with hypocrisy, with death, with damnation!

Then I would have him touched with some magic wand of disenchantment--until his two eyes would become the cold orbs of the adder; and on his lip would come the foam of raging intoxication; and to his feet the spring of the panther; and his soft hand would become the clammy hand of a wasted skeleton; and in the smooth lisp of his tongue, would come the hiss of the worm which never dies; while suddenly from his heart would burst in all-devouring fury—the unquenchable flames of hell!

But, until disenchanted, I would describe him as nothing but myrrh, and balm, and ringlet, and diamond, and flute-like voice, and pleasant and mirthful conversation. "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light!" 2 Corinthians 11:14. "So that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are very familiar with his evil schemes." 2 Corinthians 2:11

There are practices in respectable circles, I am told by physicians, which need public reprehension. Herod's massacre of the innocent infants, was as nothing compared with that of millions and millions by what I shall call prenatal murders. You may escape the grip of the law, because the existence of such life was not known by society; but I tell you that at last God will shove down on you the avalanche of his indignation; and though you may not have wielded knife or pistol in your deeds of darkness, yet, in the day when you come to judgment, you will have on your brow the brand of murderer!

Hear me when I repeat, that the practices of high life ought not to make sin in your eyes seem tolerable. God is no respecter of persons; and robes and rags will stand on the same platform in the day when the archangel, with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, swears, by Him who lives forever and ever, that Time shall be no more.

O, it is beautiful to see a young man living a life of purity, standing upright where thousands of other young men fall. You will move in honorable circles all your days. After a while, you yourself will be old, and lean quite heavily on your cane, and take short steps. And men will take off their hats in your presence. Your body, unharmed by early indulgences, will get weaker, only as the sleepy child gets more and more unable to hold up its head, and falls back into its mother's lap: so you shall lay yourself down into the arms of the Christian's tomb, and on the slab that marks the place will be chiseled: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

But here is a young man who takes the other route. The voices of impurity charm him away. He reads bad books. Lives in wicked circles. Loses the glow from his cheek, the sparkle from his eye, and the purity from his soul. The godly shun him. Down he goes, little by little. They who knew him when he came to town, while yet lingering on his head was a pure mother's blessing, and on his lip the dew of a pure sister's kiss, now pass him, and nay, "What an awful wreck!" His eye bleared with frequent carousals. His cheek bruised in the bar fight. His lip swollen with evil indulgences. Look out what you say to him. For a trifle he will take your life. Lower down and lower down, until, outcast of God and man, he lies in the alms-house, a blotch of loathsomeness and pain! Sometimes he calls out for God—and then for more drink. Now he prays—now curses. Now laughs as fiends laugh. Then bites his nails to the quick. Then runs both hands through the shock of hair that hangs about his head—like the mane of a wild beast. Then shivers—until the cot shakes—with unutterable terror. Then, with uplifted fist, fights back the devils, or clutches the serpents that seem winding him in their coil. Then asks for water, which is instantly consumed by his cracked lips. Going his round some morning, the surgeon finds him dead. You need not try to comb out or shove back the matted locks. Wrap him in a sheet. Put him in a box. Two men will carry it down to the wagon at the door. With chalk, write on the top of the box the name of the exhausted wretch. Do you know who it is? That is you, O man, if, yielding to the temptations to an impure life, you go out, and perish! THE HOUSE OF BLACKNESS OF DARKNESS! There is a way that seems bright, and fair, and beautiful; but the end thereof is BLACKNESS OF DARKNESS FOREVER!