« ElőzőTovább »
Furness. Such a word he pronounced at the late reopening of his chapel after the usual summer recess, and has now delivered to a wider congregation through the press. Not all of the body addressed in this discourse will sympathize with the author's alarms, or symbolize with the author's views; but all, we are sure, whom the pamphlet may reach, will listen with respect to counsels dictated by so fine a spirit, and read with interest words so glowing with lofty sentiment and earnest faith. Those who are least with him in the scope of his thought will see more to admire than to criticise in these pages. For ourselves, we heartily concur with the general principles here laid down, while questioning some of their applications.
Dr. Furness argues ably and justly against an over-estimate of the value and importance of forms and rites, as compared with the virtues of the Christian life. Every Unitarian will assent to that plea; and, indeed, all Christians will agree with him here, in theory at least, however their practice may belie their profession. But when he intimates that the tendency of the Unitarian body is toward this error, and that this is the danger which especially threatens this communion at present, we doubt if the general experience will confirm that suggestion. For ourselves, we had supposed that the tendency lay in the other direction, and that forms in this communion were in danger of being unduly neglected, supposing them to have any value. Individuals, we are aware, have expressed their preference for the use of a liturgy or common prayer in the worship of the Church, and their wish that the churches might unite in something of this sort. But the question here is not concerning increase of forms, but concerning the kind of form. The question is, whether devotional offerings in which the congregation shall vocally participate might not be more edifying than the present use, which broadly and frigidly divides congregations into two distinct parties, affronting with dumb pews a vocal pulpit; and whether, also, a community of ritual offices might not serve as a bond of fellowship in a body whose former bond of theological sympathy is fast losing its consistency, and whose dissolution is threatened by the desiccation of the cement which originally bound it. Nor can we assent
to Dr. Furness's position, that “when creeds and rites are made much of, and regarded as indispensable things, the inevitable consequence is that justice and humanity and personal purity soon come to be undervalued and neglected.” We believe, on the contrary, that the ages of moral decadence are coincident with those of decaying rites, and that spiritual life and ritual interest have flourished or languished together. Christ, it is true, enjoined no ritual, unless the Lord's Prayer and the Supper be regarded as such. And none was needed while the presence of the Bridegroom flooded the Church, and dissolved his own in spontaneous devotion. The Church's ritual, rightly conceived, is a cry for the absent Bridegroom, and an effort — happy or awkward, as the case may be – to represent him in ecclesiastical communion, as obedience to his precepts represents him in the life. Accordingly, we find the disciples of Jesus, under the guidance of the promised Spirit, in the very first days of the Church, uniting in liturgical worship; * and probably there never was an age or a Church in which formal worship was more sedulously maintained than it was in the age and Church of the Apostles. What is really offensive in formalism, and what we really condemn by that name, is not the presence of forms, but the absence of the spirit which should animate them; and that is not a necessary result of the form, but an incidental accompaniment. The attempt to institute rites for æsthetic effect, which are not the product of the spirit, but deliberate manufactures of the understanding, - mere literary fabrics, – is justly condemned by the author of this Discourse as a vain attempt and a great mistake. But is it fair to presume this origin in every resort to liturgical uses by a hitherto unliturgical Church? Is not the fair presumption rather that in movements looking in this direction it is just the reviving spirit of worship, and a genuine thirst for church life, that craves this expression and strives to realize it ?
Dr. Furness thinks he detects in the Unitarian body a disposition to resort to creeds, and “ to those external symbols and observances which the Apostle Paul calls ó weak and beg
garly elements.' ..... That this is the case in our denomination is beginning to be made manifest by most significant tokens. Leading and gifted men among us are publicly declaring, in so many words, that it is high time that a line should be drawn; that a ground should be taken beyond which when any man goes he is to be stigmatized as an infidel, having no claim to Christian communion and fellowship.” We hardly know to what this charge refers, and we very much question if any such desire as is here imputed is seriously entertained by Liberal Christians, or any who claim that title. With regard to the imposition of creeds, we have no belief in the practicability of such a measure, were it deemed desirable, which we think it is not by those who may be regarded as the “ leading and gifted men ” of the liberal faith. It is felt, we know, on the part of some, and the feeling has been expressed, that an ecclesiastical body, pretending to stand and act as such, - aiming, that is, at corporate action and organic life, should have some understanding with itself as to first principles and the meaning of terms; an agreement such as shall preclude complication with every vagary, moral or theological, with every profession, Christian or extra-Christian, that may please to assume its name. One would say that such an understanding is a primary condition of corporate existence and organic action, — that that which actually excludes nothing as actually includes nothing, and has no existence, — is a mere chimera, not a thing. What is wholly undefined is not, except as a meaningless name. But such an understanding
- a simple definition of a name — is something very different from a creed in the sense which usually attaches to that word; and equally different is it from taking a ground “ beyond which when any man goes he is to be stigmatized as an infidel, having no claim to Christian communion and fellowship.” If any one thinks we have stated the case too strongly, and that individuals calling themselves Unitarians may act together in that name without defining it, we still ask, Is it reasonable, is it likely in the nature of things, that those who differ in principle and faith more widely from each other than many of them differ from other ecclesiastical bodies, should continue to associate on such terms? To what purpose associate, and
with what effect, when views and aims are mutually and diametrically opposed ? Whether such a definition as we have supposed is practicable, and whether, with the crude indocilities and stiff antagonisms which assume that name, an efficient organization of “ Liberal Christians” is practicable, is a question we shall not attempt to discuss. We merely indicate the conditions under which alone, in our judgment, corporate existence and co-action are possible.
Dr. Furness appeals, in confirmation of his suspicion, to the action of the graduates of the Cambridge Divinity School, at a recent meeting, in refusing to entertain a resolution of sympathy for Mr. Theodore Parker; which action he strongly condemns. We think he misinterprets the bearing of that case, and we differ from him in our judgment concerning it. The association of Alumni of the Cambridge Divinity School is an association of Christian ministers. Those who, having passed through the School, have not entered or have not remained in that ministry, are not usually considered, and do not consider themselves, as members of that fraternity. Mr. Parker, if we understand him, does not profess to be a Christian minister, but expressly and formally disclaims that position. We say this not in the way of reproach, but of definition.* He may be something better, — he certainly is a more efficient agent, in his way, than most Christian ministers, – but that precise character he does not bear nor profess to bear. Now, Christianity is certainly not the only tie between man and man. One may take a position outside of Christianity without necessarily forfeiting his claim to our good-will or his title to our respect. There is a point of view from which even Christianity, large as it is, must be regarded as a partiality. But this is not the point of view which an association of Christian ministers, acting as such, in their corporate capacity, are supposed to base their action upon. The question is not, as Dr. Furness intimates, a question of theological differences, as between theologians, but a question of fitness as to time and place. He overlooks a distinction which seems to us quite obvious. What individuals composing that fraternity might do and should do, acting as individuals, or adting as citizens, or as scholars, or as theologians even, is one thing; what they should do as a body of Christian ministers gathered for a specific purpose, is a very different thing. We may imagine meetings in which such a resolution would be perfectly in place, and where those who refused to entertain it on this occasion, we venture to say, would vote for it gladly; a meeting, for example, of some literary fraternity, or a meeting of the citizens of Boston, or a meeting even of the clergy of Boston, where the ministers would be understood to meet, not in their denominational, but functional capacity, and where Jewish as well as Christian preachers might be present. But if, on the other hand, the resolution were offered at a meeting of the Suffolk Bar, it would surely be deemed out of place, and no discourtesy toward its object would be implied in refusing to entertain it. Or if it were offered at a meeting of Baptist or Methodist ministers by some eccentric individual intruding himself into that body, we should not expect to see it adopted, or even entertained. Why, then, at a meeting of Unitarians ? Because Unitarians profess no creed? But they do profess to be Christians.
* Nothing can be further from our intent than — now especially in his absence and illness – to speak otherwise than kindly of one whom we cherish as a friend and honor as a man; but we understand Mr. Parker as decidedly rejecting the authority of Christ when defining his ground in the sermon preached to his congregation, Nov. 14, 1852, (sce Parker's Additional Speeches, Vol. II. p. 312,) consequently as disclaiming the position of a Christian minister.
But if it be claimed that Mr. Parker, as a graduate of the Cambridge Divinity School, is strictly a member of the association in question, we still maintain that the resolution, even in that view, was out of place. The association had never, in one instance before, entertained a resolution of the kind, although cases as urgent as that of Mr. Parker, supposing him to be one of the fraternity, were always before them at their annual meetings; not, we suppose, from want of sympathy with brethren who were suffering, but because the meeting has other objects, and but little time for its proper work, and because, moreover, the sympathy in such cases is to be presumed without a formal resolution to that effect. The formality means nothing, if impartially administered; if partial, it means too much. Such being the case, a resolution of sym