Page images
PDF
EPUB

as one unprepared for the change it makes in human condition, but as one in whom the religion of Jesus Christ has built up a consciousness of immortal life that cannot be shaken by the decay of the body, he sank away from his connexion with the earth, as the sun, towards which he turned his closing eyes, was disappearing behind the light which it shed upon the surrounding sky, on the evening of that day which is dearest to the Christian heart, the day sacred to the remembrance of him who is “the resurrection and the life.”*

Within the limits to which the present occasion confines us we cannot even glance at all that belonged to the higher life, which we now proceed to contemplate. The most rapid sketch of the various excellence which was seen in him, of the aims which he pursued, and the services which he rendered to the Church and to society, would occupy much more time than can now be granted for this duty. Hereafter it should be undertaken by some one whose acquaintance and sympathy with the character he may attempt to describe, would enable him to sur. mount the difficulty of speaking in fit terms of the rare combination of gifts and virtues which was found in Dr. Channing. Let us use the few moments that we may now command, in seizing upon the prominent features of his excellence.

Of his mental constitution less need be said, because, judging as he judged, intellectual endowments are of far less moment than the spiritual energy which is evolved from the soul. Genius indeed he considered a gift from the Creator, for which the world on whose account it is bestowed, as well as its possessor, should be thankful ;

* Dr. Channing expired on Sunday, October 2, 1842.

ness.

and those powers of mind which flow from “the inspiration of the Almighty” he possessed in an unusual degree. Still they did not constitute his chief claim to respect, nor did they in his case, I conceive, belong to the very highest order of (mere) intellectual conscious

His mental constitution was not without its defects. His intellectual greatness was more the effect o rigid self-discipline than of even the superior abilities which manifested themselves in his youth. Those patient yet rapid exercises of thought, those clear and stern habits of reflection, those acute powers of analysis, which disentangled the essential from the incidental in whatever came under his study, were the result of diligent training which he imposed upon himself in the earlier stages of his mental growth, and never afterwards relinquished. One property, however, of his original constitution ought not to be overlooked his love of the beautiful, in nature and in art; for this was not only an element which responded to every call made upon it, but it gave a delicacy to his conceptions and a polish to his discourse, that added a peculiar charm alike to his conversation and his writings. No one perhaps ever enjoyed God's workmanship in the evanescent forms of beauty that clothe the earth or the skies, more than he; and few studied with a higher relish or a more accurate taste the productions of human genius. Still his greatness was of the soul rather than of the intellect. He was great, because he lived greatly. Yet it may be doubted whether this fact was recognised as it should have been. Such was the splendor thrown around his name by his intel. lectual productions, that his moral preëminence, the spiritual beauty which belonged to him, did not obtain its due appreciation beyond the circle of his nearest friends; although these productions, properly understood, must inspire reverence for the majesty of soul which they disclose, even more than admiration for the brilliancy of genius which shines through them.

His spiritual attainments also were the fruits of his own industry. Self-culture was with him a word of large and authoritative meaning. He early commenced that work which was never suspended — to make himself a perfect man in Christ Jesus. In his youth, as it has been told me, he was of a somewhat impatient temper ; but those who knew him only in the period of middle life, find it difficult to believe that he was not naturally of a gentle mood, so successful was the control which he had established over himself, till it had ceased to be an effort of the will and had become a habit of the heart. With similar fidelity – and may we not say, with equal

did he labor to bring every propensity and capacity, and even every thought to the obedience of Christ. To the tenderest affections, the gift of nature, he united a sweetness of disposition that made him an object of the most confiding love. There was nothing harsh in his temper, nor artificial in his manners, for both were formed on the model of the Friend of

So free was he from effort or display, so true to himself, that a stranger might sometimes impute to him coldness or abstraction ; but of his gentleness of spirit they who saw him daily could bear witness, and of his uniform kindness, if there were no others to testify, I could speak through eighteen years of a peculiar connexion. Singularly diffident of his own merits when he assumed the office of a public teacher, the tone of decis

success

man.

ion with which he asterwards spake arose from his sense of the momentous nature of truth, and not from confidence in himself. The seriousness which often tempered his habitual cheerfulness was the result of meditation on the great themes and responsibilities of life. With the Apostle, he judged that he had “not yet attained nor was already perfect,” but ever “pressed on towards the mark of the prize of bis high calling.” None placed that mark at a higher point, or bent their efforts more strenuously to reach it. Humble and docile, eager to learn and ready to practise whatever might be discovered of God's will, he sought “ to fulfil all righteousness," whether in his relations towards God or man. That he was free from imperfection or fault, it would be idle and sinful panegyric to assert. But that he chose perfection as his aim and directed to it his aspirations and efforts, is a truth which must have been felt by all who observed his course.

I have noticed this fidelity of self-culture first among the traits of Dr. Channing's character, not only because it laid the foundation of his other virtues, but because we are apt, when a great mind passes away, to ascribe its superiority to nature rather than to discipline. It was in him, (if it be not always,) the great life which made the great mind. His intellect was clear and comprehensive, because he loved the truth and followed after righteousness. His mind acted forcibly, because it acted freely, without the hindrance of ambition or self-love.

In pursuing this culture of his own nature Dr. Channing vindicated for himself, as he always allowed to others and maintained on their behalf, the rights of intellectual and spiritual liberty with which he held that every

No. 187.

VOL. XVI.

man is endowed by the Creator. His devotion to freedom was of the purest and most ardent kind — to the largest and loftiest freedom. Slavery in every form he scorned, abhorred, and exposed. He was the champion of human rights - the rights of free thought and free speech, of self-government and self-improvement. He stood by the Protestant principle of private judgment, and defended it against theological violence. He stood by the charter which God gave to man at his birth, and maintained its validity against usage and worldly interest. In his devotion to this cause he was consistent through his whole life. As different kinds of oppression attracted his notice, he uttered the scorching tones of rebuke and proclaimed the everlasting principles of justice in the ear of prejudice or power. He thought not of personal consequences, he cared not for fame, he was willing to incur reproach or sacrifice friendship, if he might but loosen the chains by which a human being was unrighteously bound, or might weaken the despotism of public opinion. It was a sublime sight, to behold him jeoparding the estimation in which he was held in this community rather than be silent on what he considered the errors and the duties of his countrymen. Whatever may be thought of the soundness of the views which he advanced, no one can refuse his admiration at the spectacle of moral courage, disinterestedness, and loyalty to solemn convictions which was presented by the course which he took. So jealous of any interference with the liberty of thought

great assertor of the rights of man, that he preferred a latitude of speculation in which might originate serious error, to even a tacit encouragement of the far greater evil of subjection to an authority thrusting itself between the mind and its Author. And so fearful was

was this

« PreviousContinue »