Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

where the great work of his life had been done, but in the little village church at Medford, with scanty attendance, though not without just and warm recognition of his virtues, It was easy as we stood over that still face, with the soft summer airs drifting through the open windows above, to recall the past, and remember with what unwavering courage and steadfastness that splendid form had moved before the unwilling eyes of a community which now, through the bitter lessons of civil war, has but just come to see how true was the prophecy of his pulpit. As men measure success, his life was a failure; as men measure wisdom, it was far from wise. To what purpose all this up-hill effort, all this courting of obloquy, all this spitting against the east wind ?

“ Were it not better done, as others use,

To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neræa's hair?"

But his measure of success or of wisdom differed somewhat from that of the world. It was something nobler than fame that raised this “clear spirit"

To scorn delights, and live laborious days. “A little integrity,” says Emerson," is better than any career." We believe that even on earth he did not fail of his reward.

Will he be long remembered? Probably not. Such times as ours are unfavorable to the permanent remembrance of any but the greatest names. He has left but little behind him that a national literature will long preserve; and the circumstances of his personal history and influence were for the most part circumscribed by local boundaries, and will be preserved chiefly by local tradition. But the question for every man to trouble himself about is not how long, but how, he is to be remembered; and we may at least be sure, that, as long as the memory of John Pierpont shall endure, it will be the memory of a man who, if not great, had yet great qualities, and who used them greatly. His eloquence, his poetry, his grand beauty of person, his charm of manner in which sweetness and dignity mingled, his silvery voice, his exquisite reading, the tenderness of his life at home, - these are but the graces of that noble character. Energy, courage, enthusiasm, devotion, unbending integrity, a sure instinct for truth, and a heroic persistency in fighting its battles, these are the qualities which shine forth with unfading lustre throughout his whole life. Let every man who honors such qualities thank God, and take courage from his example; and let every generous pulpit confess itself the freer for his having lived.

ART. VI. — THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF UNITA

RIAN CHURCHES.

The second session of this Conference was held in Syracuse, N.Y., on the ninth of October. It was so unexpectedly large in numbers, instructive in debate, practical in work, and lofty in spirit, — nay, so harmonious even in its differences, that it may be said, without rashness, to have settled the question, hitherto held doubtful, whether this new organization possessed the elements of success, in meeting a real want, and one deep enough below the division walls in the Unitarian communion to be felt by the majority in each of its schools of thought.

The National Conference was established at a general convention of our churches, held in April, 1865, at New York. Let us look at some of the circumstances under which that convention met. Under the slow growth of our denomination, — much slower than its earlier development seemed to promise, - faith in associated efforts for missionary purposes had steadily declined. Our best minds had apparently convinced themselves, that Unitarianism could not be helped by missionary zeal; that its object was not in any sense ecclesiastical, or to be attained by pains-taking multiplication of churches; that it was not destined to be a national Christian denomination, seeking to obtain the widest sway as an instituted faith. Rather, it was a city of refuge, to which minds and hearts intelligent and thoughtful enough to feel the oppression and tyranny of the popular creeds might fly for profection, and find a religious home. To erect its hospices in the more populous neighborhoods, where such minds were common, or where some peculiar trial had created a knot of dissidents from Orthodoxy, was its highest ambition. The conviction seems to have gained ground, that Unitarianism was not so much the real religious food of America in the nineteenth century, as a kind of seasoning placed here and there on the general table to flavor the common food of all.

A strict congregationalism also favored indifference to associated effort, and made the churches jealous of the mildest common organization of the body. A part of the tyranny from which its members had fled was that of consociations and councils, which had straitened ministerial independence, and encroached on congregational liberty. The unsettled character of a theology which had invoked free inquiry, and thrown off every yoke of prescription, increased the indisposition to entangling alliances among the churches. A common creed might be asserted by leaders of the body, and vindicated to the extent of their influence or the predominance of their gifts; but it could not be formally adopted, much less formally imposed. Nobody was authorized to define Unitarianism: how, then, could it be organized or propagated by any common effort ? The embarrassment was greater, when, to its open antagonism to Trinitarian and Calvinistic theology, it added bold researches into its own philosophy, and developed the old and the new school of thinkers and believers within its own communion. Then, struggles for a larger liberty at home, or struggles to resist what many felt to be a dangerous license of theological opinion, took the place of missionary zeal in behalf of a Unitarianism which hitherto it had been, at least, possible to define by its negations. Unitarianism lost, in some degree, the confidence and support of its own wealthier and more conservative constituency, who turned their liberality into educational and philanthropic channels; while its progressive party, thoroughly in love with individualism,

and dubious of all settled grounds of faith, was too much interested in finding some standing ground for itself to think of any common effort at union, organization, or propagandism.

Meanwhile, the whole temper of the religious times was against organization. What exhibited itself acutely in the Unitarian body had a chronic manifestation in all other Christian bodies. The unsettling of Christian theology by modern science, metaphysics, and political and social progress, has split all the churches in Protestant Christendom, and loosened all ecclesiastical cords and bonds. Half the population of Christendom have, within the last half-century, slipped out of organized Christian life. Disowning ecclesiastical and dogmatic obligations, they successfully resist the enfeebled efforts made with shorter nooses and a more timid hand to re-enclose them in any kind of religious pound. Unitarianism, avowing its uncreeded theology and its theory of individual liberty, has had to encounter the storm of modern thought in the open sea; while, within the roadsteads of the creeded churches, the waves have been broken. But it is not too much to say, that what would have shattered them into absolute wreck has merely stayed our voyage, without harm to our timbers, and with large hope of nobler and more prosperous ventures in the future. It is not to be denied, that this typhoon of philosophy has swept the deck of Unitarianism, and carried away a few of its most promising hands; but it is equally certain, that it has not broken up or seriously damaged the ship, but only proved the strength of its build. Unitarianism has shown itself capable of life; of coherency and consolidation of parts ; of resistance to the modern climate of ideas; of contact with the impinging forces of science and experience. Its spirituality does not disdain a body, without which it might be a philosophy, but could not be a Church. Its rationalism does not disown the supernatural, which would incapacitate it from being a religion. It is not so purely intellectual as to freeze the affections, nor so exclusively ethical as to decline passional emotions, nor so private to the individual conscience as to be independent of social fellowship. Practice has substantiated what theory was unable to predict.

The doubt is solved. Unitarianism has positive as well as negative power. It is able to build as well as to destroy. It can inherit the Christian past, and hand it over to a nobler future after doing the pressing work of the present.

Interesting and instructive as the controversy has been and still is between naturalists and supernaturalists, idealists and historical believers, the common sense of the Unitarian body has settled down upon the conclusion, that the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Church which represents and carries on his work in the world, have an authority, a worth, and a human necessity, which are not touched by these theoretical disputes. Without the least disposition to hush investigation or compromise intellectual differences, and with no contempt for either scholastic or metaphysical criticism, Unitarians are yet agreed, that that is not the main business of the Christian Church, or the chief work of the ministry; it does not furnish the bread of life for their children, nor the staple out of which the Christian civilization of the age is to be woven. And their recent change of front is simply this : They say to the critics, philosophers, and men of science in their ranks, Go on with your investigations and your criticisms, push your historical and philosophic inquiries as far as you can; but the Unitarian denomination does not exist for this exclusive business. It has the old function of the Christian Church to discharge, and to discharge by essentially the common methods, - by proclaiming the old and permanent principles, truths, and facts of the religion of Christ; by calling men to the knowledge and love and obedience of God; by maintaining Christian worship and regular religious instruction; by collecting men together in Christian fellowship; by establishing churches as the homes and seminaries of Christian nurture and salvation.

It was under these convictions that the Unitarian Convention met in April, 1865, and adopted its Constitution. Preamble," although adopted by a great majority, was resolutely and earnestly opposed by a vigorous and important minority. But it was felt by the overwhelming majority to be indispensable, and the very least confession of Christian faith which would be borne by the common feeling of the

[ocr errors]

« The

« ElőzőTovább »