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The Scottish Reformers
by [?]

The history of the Edinburgh reformers is no new one; it is that of all who seek to benefit their age by rebuking its popular crimes and exposing its cherished errors. The truths which they told were not believed, and for that very reason were the more needed; for it is evermore the case that the right word when first uttered is an unpopular and denied one. Hence he who undertakes to tread the thorny pathway of reform–who, smitten with the love of truth and justice, or indignant in view of wrong and insolent oppression, is rashly inclined to throw himself at once into that great conflict which the Persian seer not untruly represented as a war between light and darkness–would do well to count the cost in the outset. If he can live for Truth alone, and, cut off from the general sympathy, regard her service as its “own exceeding great reward;” if he can bear to be counted a fanatic and crazy visionary; if, in all good nature, he is ready to receive from the very objects of his solicitude abuse and obloquy in return for disinterested and self-sacrificing efforts for their welfare; if, with his purest motives misunderstood and his best actions perverted and distorted into crimes, he can still hold on his way and patiently abide the hour when “the whirligig of Time shall bring about its revenges;” if, on the whole, he is prepared to be looked upon as a sort of moral outlaw or social heretic, under good society’s interdict of food and fire; and if he is well assured that he can, through all this, preserve his cheerfulness and faith in man,–let him gird up his loins and go forward in God’s name. He is fitted for his vocation; he has watched all night by his armor. Whatever his trial may be, he is prepared; he may even be happily disappointed in respect to it; flowers of unexpected refreshing may overhang the hedges of his strait and narrow way; but it remains to be true that he who serves his contemporaries in faithfulness and sincerity must expect no wages from their gratitude; for, as has been well said, there is, after all, but one way of doing the world good, and unhappily that way the world does not like; for it consists in telling it the very thing which it does not wish to hear.

Unhappily, in the case of the reformer, his most dangerous foes are those of his own household. True, the world’s garden has become a desert and needs renovation; but is his own little nook weedless? Sin abounds without; but is his own heart pure? While smiting down the giants and dragons which beset the outward world, are there no evil guests sitting by his own hearth-stone? Ambition, envy, self-righteousness, impatience, dogmatism, and pride of opinion stand at his door-way ready to enter whenever he leaves it unguarded. Then, too, there is no small danger of failing to discriminate between a rational philanthropy, with its adaptation of means to ends, and that spiritual knight-errantry which undertakes the championship of every novel project of reform, scouring the world in search of distressed schemes held in durance by common sense and vagaries happily spellbound by ridicule. He must learn that, although the most needful truth may be unpopular, it does not follow that unpopularity is a proof of the truth of his doctrines or the expediency of his measures. He must have the liberality to admit that it is barely possible for the public on some points to be right and himself wrong, and that the blessing invoked upon those who suffer for righteousness is not available to such as court persecution and invite contempt; for folly has its martyrs as well as wisdom; and he who has nothing better to show of himself than the scars and bruises which the popular foot has left upon him is not even sure of winning the honors of martyrdom as some compensation for the loss of dignity and self-respect involved in the exhibition of its pains. To the reformer, in an especial manner, comes home the truth that whoso ruleth his own spirit is greater than he who taketh a city. Patience, hope, charity, watchfulness unto prayer,–how needful are all these to his success! Without them he is in danger of ingloriously giving up his contest with error and prejudice at the first repulse; or, with that spiteful philanthropy which we sometimes witness, taking a sick world by the nose, like a spoiled child, and endeavoring to force down its throat the long-rejected nostrums prepared for its relief.