Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherishing the Perishing

Since my wife died on February 11, almost every morning I have awakened with a hymn in my heart. I know that is because people are praying for me, and to all of you who read this, I say, "'Thank you' for your prayers. They work."

This morning's hymn was this, penned by the blind hymnist Fannie Crosby in 1869:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
Although this is not a commentary on contemporary Christian music, modern mega-churches never sing this song because it is too lyrically complicated, and because swaying religious sentiment can be more cheaply attained.

The song triggered my recollection of three principles or maximums set forth by Immanuel Kant in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals:

First Maxim: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Second Maxim: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Third Maxim: "Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends."

Boiled down to their simplest expression, the maxims assert that mortality mandates morality. We should do good to other human beings because they, all of them, are destined for death. In view of the compulsion and compunction of an inner law of rightness and goodness, and in view of universal mortality, we should never treat others as means to our own selfish ends, but as ends in themselves, "ends" because of their destiny with death; in other words, we should cherish those who will perish.

In Christian terms, this means the Golden Rule applied to all humanity. How difficult it is for us to apply that rule even to those we love the most, and inestimably difficult to apply the rule to those we do not love at all.

Dear Reader, as moral human beings, let us be about not just cherishing the perishing but, as Fannie Crosby reminds us, let us
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

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