« PreviousContinue »
that pass thought and emotion into the minds of others. Other sects are not dependent on the gifts of their ministers. The fixed interest of their stationary faith goes far to equalize the influence of their ministers, and to put away the necessity for individual power. We cannot do without individual energy, elevation, faith, knowledge, utterance. If no living voice goes out from our pulpits, our congregations cannot supply the life out of the intensity of their own sympathy with some saving Doctrine. In their own religious affections and convictions they may be earnest and warm; but under such a ministry, in the church they must be cold. The intensity of faith and devotion in individual Unitarians may depend upon themselves: but their life and interest when assembled in congregations must depend solely upon their ministers. As individuals, they may have energetic convictions, and an independent religious vitality; but as hearers, they have no exciting influence, no source of effect independently of the mind that is administering to them its own views of Christian Faith, Hope, and Duty. In their congregations, Unitarians are Hearers, and not Believers; drawing their interest, not from their associations with a creed, but from the living impressions which the Preacher's mind is capable of producing. This circumstance deprives the Preacher's words of all adventitious aids. If they have not life in themselves, they have no association with the trembling interest of a saving Faith to impart to them a warmth not their own. So far as the Preacher, by the devotional beauty of his own spirit, by the energies of his Reason and his Conscience, is able to send a religious life through his audience, to unite them by the power of a uniform impression, to instruct their minds, and to melt their wills into one, so far there is vitality in a congregation—the mind of the preacher is an instrument capable of acting powerfully on the spiritual states of his hearers : otherwise there is no congregational vitality; as individuals, they may have intense spiritual life; as an audience, they are unimpressed, moved and inspired by no deep conviction, feeling and obeying no common impulse.
This is one of the results of our condition of spiritual freedom and progress. It arises out of attaching the interest of our eternity to no one set of notions. If it seems to make the religious life of congregations, as such, too much dependent on their ministers, it must be recollected that we cannot enjoy inconsistent advantages, that we cannot have the narrow and concentrated superstitious interest of a stationary creed, in conjunction with the advances of opinion, the growth of light, the power to improve. But certainly this condition of our religious consti
tution requires peculiar qualifications in our ministers, to enable them, out of the fullness and fixedness of their own faith, to sustain the life of Congregations held together by no outward bond. Men so placed should cherish the strongest religious life within themselves. They should address themselves directly and powerfully to the highest spiritual tendencies of the human heart. They should present a Christianity qualified by its energy to meet both the strength and the weakness of the spiritual being, to inspire a devoted love, and to lead souls captive. They should take their stand upon no combative ground. They should eschew a religion of negations. Faith should be their great power; a faith that appeals to the faith of their hearers, nourishing it where it is, creating it where it is not.
With no other bond of union than their power to satisfy the deep spiritual wants of those to whom they minister, they, above all others, should cultivate a Christianity that has positive attractions for the spirit of man, a Christianity that is fitted to draw upon itself the warmest and purest affections, a Christianity that engages to do for us what it did for Christ, to elevate the diviner tendencies, whilst it supports the weakness of our frail yet noble nature. From the absence of Creeds, and its want of a mystical or fanatical interest, no sect so much as Unitarianism requires a sympathetic, generous, deep-hearted Faith, an affirmative and nutritive Christianity, to lay hold upon the religious affections, and feed the religious life of its churches. There is no other sect to which coldness in Religion could be so fatal. Have Unitarians been aware of this peculiarity of their religious position that the less they have of creed, the more their need of Faith?
The true question, then, is this :-Is Unitarianism capable of becoming this source and nourishment of an independent interest, when pursued and cultivated for the sake of its own views of Christ and Christianity, without a reference to the views of others, without an interest borrowed from antagonism? If not, then has it nothing to recommend it as a Religion ; for its Liberty, its Freedom of opinion and of conscience, is a mere preliminary, that should belong to all forms of faith, and characterize none. Our Liberty is not our Faith ; though one might suppose so, from the much speaking about the one, and the little cherishing of the other. “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free,” would seem to represent, not merely the spirit of the Inquirer, but the whole results of his inquiry; not merely the conditions of thought, on which Truth is obtained, but the truth itself, our whole Christian Faith. Not less truly than wittily was it said of us, that we stand so fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, that we are never getting on.
Our Liberty gives us the privilege to love and pursue our own Faith; and the worth of the privilege depends upon the value of the spiritual possessions we obtain through its exercise. Otherwise it would be a barren principle, not worth contending for, The importance, then, we attach to our Faith, our love and cultivation of it, must justify the importance we attach to that liberty of thought which is only the process by which we reach it. Liberty to pursue truth is better than any present results of opinion, only because Truth is infinite, and Liberty must be as unlimited as Knowledge. Our Liberty at each step may be perfect; our Truth must be imperfect. Nevertheless, we value the Liberty only for the sake of whatever portion of Truth, or, what is the same thing to us, of honest conviction, which it enables us to attain. Whilst we cherish the principle of Liberty, which obtains for us new possessions of truth, let us at the same time feel that the possessions themselves are worth loving and presenting. At each step of our progress the treasure we have discovered is our pearl of great price. Whatever views, convictions, moral aims and aspirations, hopes, consolations, joys, may ariseout of an intense cherishing of the spirit of our faith, let us live upon these. Our Liberty forbids us to have Creeds. If so, then we are bound to have germinating principles, for whose fruits we anxiously look and wait, as for the nourishment of our souls.
All outward revelations are symbolical. The universe is a symbol of its Creator. Christ is the image of God. There is a divine impress upon both. The language of such revelations is not that of utterance, but of action : not that of verbal revelations, but that of broad reflections of the infinite Mind on all the varied forms of materialism, and on the manifestations of character in a good man, that is, a man partaking of the spirit of God. It is the property of such revelations, that, being symbolical, they convey more and more of the mind they proceeded from into the minds that can interpret them, to whom the symbol is significant, by a succession of inexhaustible communications. Nature never can be emptied of the knowledge it contains of God. It reveals the Infinite One, and, as a worthy symbol of him, it reveals him infinitely. Christianity never can be emptied of the revelations it gives of God. The spirit of the Father is expressed, not logically in the words, but symbolically in the works of the Son. “The light of the glory of God” is on that life and character which are manifestations of the Spirit of Goodness who sent him into the world, and from these symbols we derive our “knowledge of the infinite Original of the mind of Christ. The works that he did in his Father's name bear witness of him—they reflect the spirit of the God from whom he came.
If these reve
lations had been verbal, in logical propositions, they had been limited, incapable of giving out more truth than they at first revealed; but being emblematical, the light that is in them is expansive. It beams upon the mind; and the mind, enlightened by the emblem, reads into the emblem itself, with a deeper insight. As in the natural, so in the spiritual world, it is the light which proceeds from an object, that enables us to perceive the object itself. Christ, the symbol of God, beameth the light of his spirit into the mind of man, and the mind, by the help of the light received from Christ, looks upon Christ himself with a more spiritual, understanding eye, and drinks more deeply of the fullness of the symbol. And this process goes on continually; the symbol of the deity communicating of His light to the mind, and the enlightened mind finding more and more of spiritual hints, of truth and meaning, in the revelations of the symbol. Let us understand this, and be continual students of the life of Christ. We, of all sects, have the deepest interest in drawing forth the spirit of God as emblemed in the deeds of Jesus, and cherishing it in ourselves. Our life, as a Religion, depends upon this. From this source alone can we imbibe a vitality, and become as men inspired. We must draw out continually the spirit of Jesus, but never imprison it in fixed forms. Our principle of life is in development. Our-bond is a sympathy with him, with the revelations of his character. Our spring of interest is in our power to drink deeper into the sentiment, the spiritual fountains of his life. The only means of influence on which we can rely is our power to feel ourselves, and to make others feel, the moving moral impulses of his mind, the seminal principles of his character. This is the well of the living waters that spring up into the everlasting life, and pour a continual freshness on our souls. This is the faith in the Christ, to which there is no limit. It is a moral sympathy, and may be cherished indefinitely. Only we must not bar up our own progress. We must not rest in any views as ultimate. We must attach no value to dogmas. We must consider our only principle of life to be that spirit, capable of continual increase, which approximates us to a moral union with Jesus.
We have not the same interest, and never can have, in doctrines that other sects have. This has been long felt amongst us, but perhaps not understood; perhaps even complained of, as an evil and a defect.
It is not so. It arises out of the essentially moral nature of our Faith, that the essence of our Christianity is a practical sympathy with the Christ. Other sects can receive, Sunday after Sunday, the same set of doctrinal ideas without wearying. We cannot. The explanation is obvious. They are listening to the Scheme of their Salvation. So at least they think. Their safety depends upon the firmness and undoubtingness of Faith with which they lay hold upon its doctrines. These doctrines are obscure, foreign to all the ordinary views and reasonings of the mind, hard to be believed; and they require to have repaired, from Sunday to Sunday, the breaches that are constantly occurring in their faith. Hence is it that this doctrinal architecture has to be repeated every week, and system-builders rear anew the Edifice of their Salvation. We require more than to re-construct this artificial feeling of safety. We have no limited set of ideas, which as an allsufficient Christianity we are to imbed afresh in the tremulous convictions of Faith. We have to nurture in our congregations a spiritual Christianity, the condition of which is Freedom, and its life Progress. This requires in our ministers an intense sympathy with the moral spirit of Jesus, the progressive element of our faith, the only element that is susceptible of continual enlargement, and capable of feeding a continually fresh interest.
We have described what we regard as our only means of maintaining life as a religious Community-Faith in our own Christianity. In the views we have given we shall be thought more or less definite, in proportion as there is sympathy with us, or we have been able to excite it.
Two plans have occasionally been proposed as remedies for our inefficient state, which we have not at present space to discuss, but both of which we hold to be far short of the roots of our inefficiency. Of these plans, one is external and the other internal.
By some, Organization is considered our great want. We have no faith in this remedy. Organization is useful for the purposes of an outward activity; it does nothing to feed inward life. For such purposes as the education of our Ministers, the protection of our Rights, the missionary and philanthropic exertions of our Christian zeal, we have need of more co-operation and union than we have; but with these the functions of organization end. The spirit of our faith forbids that the life of our congregations should be fed out of any common source. We are too free and too spiritual to be held together as a Body. There can be life in our churches only as a moral sympathy with the spirit of Jesus is cherished in individual members and individual ministers.
By some, a greater variety in the topics of pulpit instruction is held to be our great want. This we regard rather as a symptom of the evil that attaches to us, than as approaching the true remedy. It is a sign of the feeble interest that the pulpit excites,