« ElőzőTovább »
influence, moral omnipotence even, the effectual moral influence which a perfect father always exercises over his child, and by which the character of the child is made pure and strong, were an interference with human freedom! To persuade a soul to repent and believe; to convict and convert by moral discipline, - this is not an interference with that soul's freedom: on the contrary, when God persuades a soul to submit and obey, he lifts that soul into the freedom which belongs to the eternal life. It seems as if Calvinism had been either insane or wicked in alleging, that God must not interfere with human freedom by persuading men to be holy and happy; for that is just what God must do, and to be unable to do it is to be no God.
There is no gulf fixed between morality and mercy. To make men do right is the whole of mercy, and no more than the whole of justice. When God “communicated morality in reason and conscience,” he communicated justice and mercy also. These latter are not "settled in the heavens," apart from the former, " at the divine option and volition,” except as it is the wish and will of God, necessary and inflexible, to accomplish morality in every creature. The very instant in which human speculation attempts to leave the plain ground of simple morality, as this is revealed in reason and conscience, in that instant it becomes a criminal in the presence of Eternal Right, no matter how high the pretext, or how pious the pretension, which is put forth by it. Through the whole history of religion among men, there may be run this line of distinction between systems or parts of systems which do, and those which do not, rest fully and squarely on the revelation of right and wrong in the reason and conscience of man: the former sound at least in method; the latter false in method, and false in results.
This brings us to the position which we believe that the Christian ministry, and education for that ministry, ought to occupy, and must occupy or surrender its power. The necessity of the hour is for instruction in religion which comes back from dogmas to the revelations of a good conscience. The free thought of Christendom is impatient of the ancient dogmas, even in the most conservative communions: it spends itself in energetic pursuit of the just, the good, the useful, and demands supreme consideration for the real welfare of men. It is idle, in our day, to attempt a revival of interest in the dogmatic traditions of any branch of the Church ; especially when this involves even an apparent undervaluing of practical devotion to human welfare. The authority of a humane spirit, of brotherly good-will, is greater than the authority of any creed. Modern events have put man into the foreground, and made it of the first importance to consider the practical problems of his deliverance from evil here and now. Of two men, one of whom ventures to “rise upon the rostrum, and make positive statements concerning the origin of the human race, the dark, mysterious beginnings of human history, the purposes and plans of the Infinite Mind, and the alternatives of eternal salvation and eternal damnation,” while the other attempts rather to expound the revelations of a good conscience, to interpret the rights and duties of man, to set forth the joys of righteousness and the pains of iniquity, it is not difficult to tell which will command, in any and every communion, the attention and interest of enlightened minds.
Is there not, beyond all question, a Reality of religion and of Christianity, which may be considered apart from religious, or Christian, Formality? If there be no Christian Reality, which, in thought at least, may be taken apart from Christian Formality, then is Christianity a doomed religion. We are fully aware that some thinking men are not only setting aside the long-sacred views of Christ and the Bible, but also are adopting conceptions described by the terms “pantheism," “ atheism," “ materialism,” – terms which strike the common pious ear with horror. We do not hesitate to accept the situation. If the good providence of God can bring good out of it, we ought to have hope in it. These men, whose speculation is designated as pantheistic or atheistic or materialistic, do not necessarily lose the Christian Reality. They do misunderstand, in our view, the revelations of reason ; still oftener, they misname their own interpretation of these revelations, thinking themselves atheists because they deny the God of their traditional faith, when in fact their atheism is but a purer faith in God; or thinking themselves pantheists when they have merely reached a more suitable theism; or thinking themselves materialists when they have only denied a false spiritualism. The question of Christian reality is not settled by reference to speculative opinions. The theoretical atheist, with his congregation of theoretical atheists, preaching, for those to whom such preaching is acceptable, a crusade against the godless theism of ecclesiastical theology, may be serving the true God truly, although for us the fashion of his service may be any thing but true. The theoretical pantheist, in like manner, may belong, in the providence of God, to the period of transition from one theistic conception to another; and even his preaching of pantheism may serve an important purpose. The theoretical materialist also, who finds his fit audience, and delivers his word, may play a necessary part in the exegesis of the profound revelation of God to the spirit of man. And if all these not merely nor chiefly inculcate their speculative views, but spend their strength in great part upon teaching justice and mercy, and humble conformity to the perfect law of pure right, who dares say that they have no lot nor part in the Christian Reality? The life of God in the soul of man does not disdain men of mistaken opinions; otherwise the whole of even Christian history would be little else than a field of the dead, and we ourselves, perhaps, stumblers upon the grave's mouth. The Holy Ghost is exceedingly tolerant, with a tolerance which it is hard for men to comprehend, and hardest of all for them to imitate.
The customary judgment pronounced in this matter is Pharisaic, and utterly false. Especially in this is it signally false, — in that it takes no account of the presence of the Christian Reality when it finds the Christian Formality absent. We have put, in what seems to us a true light, the extreme case of wide departure from the path of Christian speculation, and have insisted that this departure is not ground for judgment of disfellowship on our part. But, in the case of less-wide departure from the traditions of Christianity,—the case of men who set aside the customary opinions respecting Christ and the
Bible, but remain devout theists and ardent spiritualists, – toleration is hardly less difficult; nevertheless, it is absolute duty. Not only have these men an absolute right of free conviction, and to teach any people which will accept their teaching, but their teaching is demanded by a very considerable number of those with whom Christian faith is a precious inheritance. Those who care to know the fact can easily prove, that very many intelligent people, of the common class, have, in the natural unfolding of their Christian faith, rejected Christ and the Bible, as mediators between themselves and the life and light of God. The pious believers who send in their complaints of radical outrages upon their Christian sensibilities, are not the only persons whom the ministry must consider. There are some in every Unitarian congregation, and in many congregations there are considerable numbers, who rejoice in no words so much as in those which omit Christ in presenting the love of God; while not a few absolutely exult in those “ destructive” words which set Christ aside as an object of religious faith. Love to man and love to God fill, with very many devout souls to-day, the whole sphere of religion. The result of honest study, with not a few sincere Christians, is that Jesus was no more absolutely perfect than Paul or John the Baptist; that, on the side of “ the natural man,” he was deceived by his Messianic hopes; and that only in the victory of " the spiritual man” in him, when he gave up his own wish to the will of God, was he a true Christ, or anointed son of God. This may be wrong; but those who hold it are not therefore bad men. They firmly believe it right, and themselves the more Christian for honestly seeing and avowing it, inasmuch as it seems to them to unfold, in new power, the thought of “God with us,” and to be the phase of Christian development which the providence of God has intended for our day and generation. The pious complaint of wounded sensibilities is unmanly and unfraternal. If an honest brother earnestly resists our opinion, and with all his might criticizes the method and results of our faith, let us face him without whimpering, and reason with him without bitterness. Our faith is not our private property, that we should resent all
VOL. LXXXIII. - NEW SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. I.
question of it; nor is a faith worth having, if so frail that we need to shield it from the shock of discussion. Conceited babblers, crazy enthusiasts, superficial wranglers, and insincere traders in new notions, we may avoid, or even scourge out of the temple; but these “men and brethren," whose only crime is that they have honestly adopted, and earnestly contend for, convictions of truth in the interpretation of Christianity which contravene opinions dear to us, have the same rights, and deserve the same respect, in the confession and ministry of faith, which they would be granted if their opinions were not heretical.
The demand of our time, for the making of ministers, is a thorough re-organization of our system of education for the ministry, upon the principles of entire freedom of conviction, and the supreme importance of the realities of religion apart from the forms. The teachers of a school of divinity should be men who can meet all sorts of minds, and every phase of thought, in a spirit of sympathy, without fear and without anger at any varieties of speculation, or any supposed results of study. They should be men of the most thorough discipline in study and speculation, that they may be able, in free and fair conference with their pupils, to assist them from the resources of sound reason and accurate scholarship. And, with all and above all, they should be men full of enthusiasm for the realities of religion, - prophets, rather than dogmatists and formalists; men, indeed, of clear conceptions and vigorous thought, but, even more, men full of the sacred passions of duty and of trust, of holiness and of hope.
The failure of Unitarianism, at this moment, is in its schools of divinity. They have only the most inadequate endowment. A body so rich as the Unitarian body is, ought to place not less than a full million of money at the disposal of its two schools of faith. These schools are admirably located, and are hopeful foundations; but they lack almost all the elements of institutions worthy of the time. There are not men enough in the seats of instruction to create the atmosphere, much less fill the chairs, of a true school of faith. Look at Cambridge, with its one overworked man of all duties, its one professor of “Sacred