Had the following been written by anyone other than Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), it might be taken as a specimen of pietistic escapism. But coming from one known for his lifelong advocacy for political reform and his busy, personal involvement in caring for the poor of Industrializing Britain, it is anything but. It’s not an unhealthy other-worldliness, by any means. It’s a reality check. And a very necessary reminder for us in the weeks running up to the election.
* * *
“There is a delusion that attaches to much of moral and much of political speculation. The purpose of both is to ameliorate the condition of humanity, and to rear the permanent and substantial fabric of a better society than that which now encompasses our globe. It is, indeed, a soothing perspective for the eye of the philanthropist to dwell upon, when he looks onward to fancied scenes of bliss and perfection in the ages that are to come —and while he pictures to himself as the fruit of his enlightened labours in the philosophy of public affairs, that there shall then be love in every heart, and plenty in every habitation, it is scarcely to be wondered at, that he should kindle in the thought of all this goodly munificence, as if it bore upon it somewhat of the worth and greatness of immortality. But apart from religion – and how poor is the amount of all that the mere cosmopolite can do for our species! And even though, without its aid, he should he able to perfect the temporal economy of nations, never can he perpetuate beyond a few flying years, to a single individual of this vast assemblage, any portion of the bliss or the glory that he thinks to have provided for them. It is death which brings down the worth and computation of his high-blown enterprise, that though established over the whole earth, and weathering the lapse of many centuries, can only gild in brighter and more beauteous characters than before, the fantastic day of each ephemeral generation. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ through which life and immortality are brought to light—it is this alone that can furnish the friend of humanity with solid and enduring materials – and never can he stand on a vantage ground where the mockeries of the grave do not reach him, till labouring and devising for the Christianity of his fellows, he helps to extend an interest that shall survive the wreck of every death-bed; and which, instead of being swept into annihilation, will be ushered to everlasting day, by that trumpet, at whose sound, our world, with all the pomp and all the promise of its many institutions, shall utterly pass away” (Collected Works 16:214).