William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 101 of 169)
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well-instructed t>elievers, "however small its numbers,
is to be considered as in itself an integral and perfect
chwch, so far as renfds its religious rights ; nor has it
any superior on earm, whether mdividual, or assembly,
or convention, to whom it can be lawfully required to
render submidaion ; inasmuch as no believer out of its
pale, nor any order or council of men whatever, hai a
greater right than itself to expect a partidpatkm in the
written word and the promisea, in the presence of Christ,
in the presiding influence of the Spirit, and in those
gradous gifts whidi are the reward of united prayer/*—

yd. JL, p 194.

The choice of the minister, he savs, belongs
to the people. The minister, if possible,
should serve the chim:h gratuitously, and Uve
by the laboiu: of his own hands. This unpaid
service he pronounces more noble and con-
sonant to our Lord's example and that of the
Apostles. In accordance with these views, he
favotu^ the idea of a church consisting of few
members : —

" AU that perulns to the worship of God and the
salration of bclierers, all, in short, ^ax is necessary to

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constitute « church, may be duly and orderly tnuiMcted religion, intended for all ages and natioDS,

in a paiiicular church, within the walU of a private hotue, and for all the progressive states of society to

and where the munbers assetnblcd are inconsideratjle. ^jjg ^^^ of i^g world, to suppose that in its

Nay, such a church, when in compliance with the in- infancy it established an order of worship.

tcrcsted views of its pastor it allows of an increase of • ,»„,L:«„ „„^ riie/^inlin^ whiVh wac tt\

numbersbcyondwhat*^bconvenient.deprive.it»clfina instruction, and disapline, whl^^-as to

great measure of the advantages to be derived from meet- remain inviolable m all future times. This

fng in common.**— r»/. Jh, f. 194. doctrine of an inflexible form seeros to us

He maintains that ministeni arc not to Si»nf,T"orikiZt u'^to^ritul,^

n,onojx>Uzepub.i^:instj^^^^^ Chns^^^ aSTc^^S, tur XS.'Ttl

nistration of the ordinances; but that all ^ .^._ *-, u:„h w«.if in fhi« <»v<>rla«rin<r

?''tl^\Sri^" '' '"■ chlr^he^actri^^ in^"efinU?ilSl";ff

ticipate in these serMces .- ^^^ ^^^ Testament, in regard to this subject.

"The custom of holding assemblies is to be main- jg ^^ meaLn proof of the enlarged and pro-

taincd, not after the present mode, but according to the spgctive Wisdom of its Founder. We belie%-e

apostoUca insnmtion, which did not ordam that an ir.di- t{_: * 7,^ ^k- ^;«'.«:«« ^f liV-«il %.;»t»c t\^

vldual, and he a stipendiary, should have the sole right of that, with the diffusion of liberal >ievrs. the

•peaking from a higher place, but that each believer in question Will anse, whether our religion cannot

turn dMMild be authorized to speak, or prophesy, or be taught and administered in methods and

teach, or exhort, according to his gifts ; insomuch that forms more adapted than those which now

even the weakest among the brethren had the privilege of prevail, to its spirit and great design, to the

asking '»"«"^"i,^? „7"4i";lS '^,f^?f 7, *5i/Tr principles of human nature, and to the con-

cxpcricnced members of the congrcgauon." — Vu. Il.y *: r . . ^^,^,.^ a »»«„«. »w^

f.iox. »♦ Any believer is competent 10 act as an wrf/. dition and wants of society. Amonff the

nar^ minitter, according as convenience may require, changes which may gTOW from this dlSCUSSIon,

provided only he be endowed with the necessary cifts ; we do not anticipate the adoption of Milton's

tbesegiftsconsututinghismiwion."— ^. I5J. "If there, plan of sentencing ministers to earn their

fore it be competent to any beh(nrcrwhatcv« ^^ ^ ^^ ^ of their bfow; for wc

the gospel, provided he be furnished with the requisite ^. • ,. .. ^ » ,,^ ,^^ ...»«..,«, ;. tV.J «k,wMH.i

gift»,itVaC> competent to him to administer the rite of think that we see reasons, m the general

baptism i inasmuch as the latter office is inferior to the spread of knowledge, for enlarging their

former.**— f. 157. ** With regard to the Lord's supper means and opportunities of study and ia-

also, it has been shown, in the preceding chapter, that all tellectual culture, that they may meet the

are entitled to participate in tiut rile, but that the increasing demand for more eDlififaleilfid

privilcee of dispensing the elements is confined to no inculcation of Christian truth. At the saoie

part.c»narman,ororderof men."-M58. ^.^^ -^ ^^ ^^ ^ „^^ ^^^^^^ ^j^ ^

We entirely accord with the spirit of free- conformity to Milton's suggestion, public

dom which these passages breathe ; but from instruction, instead of continuing to be a

some of the particular views we dissent, monopoly of ministers, may be extended

The great error of Milton lies in supposing freely to men of superior intelligence and

that the primitive church was meant to be piety, and that the results of this arrange-

a model for all ages. But can we sup- ment may be the infusion of new life,

pose that the church at its birth, when it power, and practical wisdom into rehgious

was poor, persecuted, hemmed in by Judaism teaching, and the substitution of a mote

and Heathenism, supplied imperfectly with natural, free, and various eloquence, for the

written rules and records, dependent for in> technical and monotonous mode of treating

struction chiefly on inspired teachers, and subjects which clings so often and so ob>

comp^ed of converts who had grown up and stinately to the performances of the pulpit.

been steeped ia Tewish and Heathen errors, — Again, we do not expect, among the

can we imagine, that in these circumstances changes of forms and outward worship, that

the church took a form which it ought to Christians, to meet our authors views. wiU

retain as sacred and unalterable, in its shut their churches and meet in private

triumphs, and prosperity, and diffusion, and houses ; for large religious edifices, and large

in ages of greater light and refinement ? We congregations, seem to us among the impor-

know that in the flrst ages there were no tant means of collecting, and interesting ia

ministers with salaries, or edifices for public Christianity, the mass of the comimuaity.

worship. Christians met in private houses. But perhaps narrower associations for lelj-

and sometimes in the obscurest they could gious improvement may be formed, in wfaidi

find. On these occasions, the services were the formalities of public worship will be

not monopolized by an individual, but shared relaxed, and Christians may reap the benefits

bv the fraternity; nor is there a hint in the of the more familiar and confidential meei-

Ncw Testament that the administration of ings of the primitive converts. It is indeed

the Lord's supper and baptism was confined a great question, how the public admlnit*

to the minister. But in all this we have no tration of Christianity, including modes oC

rule for the present day. Indeed it seems to discipline, instruction, and worship, may be

us utterly repugnant to the idea of a universal rendered more impressive and effectoaL TWi

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field is almost untrodden; but, if we read
ariglit the signs of the times, the day for
exploring it drnvrs nigh.

We have said that, whilst we dissent from
some of Milton's views on the subject of our
present remarks, we agree in their spirit. It
was evidently the aim of all his suggestions
to strip the clergy, as they are called, of that
pectiliar, artificial sanctity with which super-
stition bad long arrayed them, and which had
made their simple, benignant office one of
the worst instruments of ambition and des-
potism. We believe that this institution
will never exert its true and full power on the
church and on the world until the childish
awe with which it has been viewed shall be
exchanged for enlightened esteem, and until
men, instead of expecting from it certain
mysterious, undefined influences, shall see in
it a rational provision for promoting virtue
and happiness, not by magic, but according
to the nxed laws of human nature.

The remainder of the "Treatise on Chris-
tian Doctrine" furnishes topics on which we
should willingly remark ; but we have only
time to glance at the opinions in which Milton
differs from the majority. He rejects infant
baptism, and argues against it with his usual
earnestness and strength. He not only affirms,
with many other Christians, that the fourth
commandment, relating to the Sabbath, is
abolished with the rest of the Mosaic system,
but maintains, what few have done, that
under the Gospel no time is appomted for
public worship, but that the observance of
the first day of the week rests wholly on
expediency, and on the agreement of Chris-
tians. He believes that Christ is to appear
visibly for the judgment of the world, and
that he will reign a thousand years on earth.
at the end of which period Satan will assail
the church with an innumerable confederacy,
and be overwhelmed with everlasting ruin.
He speaks of the judgment as beginning
with Christ's second advent, and as compre-
hending his whole government through the
inilleBoium, as well as the closing scene, when
sentence will be pronounced on evil angels,
and on Ihe whole himian race. We have
now given, we believe, all the peculiarities of
Milcon's faith. As for that large part of his
work in which he has accumulated scriptural
proofs of doctrines and duties in which all
Christians are agreed, its general tenor may
be understood without further remarks.

It may now be asked, What is the value of
this book ? We prize it chiefly as a testimony
to Milton's profound reverence for the Chris-
tinn religion, and an assertion of the freedom
and rights of the mind. We are obliged to
aay that the work throws little new light on
the crreat subjects of which it treats. Some
will say that this oiight not to surprise us ;

for new light is not to be looked for in the
department of theology. But, if this be true,
our religion may be charged with the want of
adaptation to our nature in an essential point ;
for one of the most striking features of the
human mind is its thirst for constantly en-
larging knowledge, and its proneness to lose
its interest in subjects which it has exhausted.
The chief cause of Milton's failure was, that
he sought truth too exclusively in the past,
and among the dead. He indeed called no
man master, and disclaimed the authority of
Fathers, and was evidently dissatisfied with all
the sects which had preceded or were spread
around him. Still he believed in the perfection
of the primitive church, and that Christianity,
instead of being carried forward, was to be
carried back to its original purity. To use his
own striking language, "the lovely form of
Truth," which Christians at first embraced,
" had been hewn into a thousand pieces, like
the mangled body of Osiris, and scattered to
the four winds;" and consequently he be-
Ueved that the great duty of her friends was
"to gather up limb by limb, and bring to-
gether every joint and member." In con-
formity with this doctrine, he acted too much
as an eclectic theologian, culling something
from almost every sect, and endeavouring to
form an harmonious system from materials
" gathered from the four winds." He would
have done better had he sought truth less in
other minds, and more in the communion of
his own soul with Scripture, nature, God, and
itself. The fact is, that the church, from its
beginning, had been imperfect in knowledge
and practice, and our business is not to rest
in the past, but to use it as a means of a purer
and brighter futurity. Christianity began to
be corrupted at its birth, to be debased by
earthly mixtures as soon as it touched the
earth. The seeds of that corruption, which
grew and shot up into the overshadovring
despotism of Papal Rome, were sown in the
age of the Apostles, as we learn in the Epistles ;
and we infer from the condition of the world,
that nothing but a stupendoiis moral miracle,
subverting all the laws of the human mind,
could have prevented their development.
Who, that understands human nature, does
not know that old associations are not broken
up in a moment ; that, to minds plunged in
a midnight of error, truth must gradually
open like the dawning day; that old views
will mingle with the new; that old ideas,
which we wish to banish, will adhere to the
old words to which they were formerly at-
tached; and that the sudden and entire
eradication of long-rooted errors would be
equivalent to the creation of a new intellect ?
How long did the Apostles, under Christ's
immediate tuition, withstand hb instructions I
Even Peter, after the muraculous illuminatioii

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of the day of Pentecost, remained ignorant,
until the messenger from Cornelius, of that
glorious feature of Christianity, the abolition
of the Jewish peculiarity, and the equal par-
ticipation of the Gentiles with the Jews in the
blessings of the Messiah. As soon as Chris-
tianity was preached, it was blended with
Judaism, which had power to neutralize the
authority of Paul in many churches. In like
manner, it soon began to be "spoiled " of its
simplicity, ' ' by pliilosophy and science falsely
so called," and to be encumbered by Pagan
ceremonies. The first Christians were indeed
brought into "wonderful light," if their Chris-
tian state be compared with the darkness from
which they had emerged ; but not if compared
with the perfection of knowledge to which
Christ came to exalt the human race. The
earliest Fathers, as we learn from their works,
were not receptive of large communications
of truth. Their writings aboimd in puerilities
and marks of childish credulity, and betray
that indistinctness of vision which is expe-
rienced by men who issue from thick dark-
ness into the light of day. In the ages of
bart>arism which followed the fall of the
Roman empire, Christianity, though it an-
swered wise purposes of Providence, was
more and more disfigured and obscured.
The Reformation was indeed a glorious era,
but glorious for its reduction of Papal and
clerical power, and for the partial liberation
of the mind, rather than for immediate im-
provements of men's apprehensions of Chris-
tianity. Some of the Reformers invented or
brought back as injurious errors as those
they overthrew. Luther's consubstantiation
differed from the Pope's transubstantiation
by a syllable, and that was all the gain ; and
we mav safely say that transubstantiation
was a lessi monstrous doctrine than the five
points of Calvm. How vain, therefore, was
Milton's search for "the mangled Osiris,"
for " the lovely form and immortal features
of Truth," in the history of the church I

Let us not be misunderstood, as if we would
cut ofif the present age from the past. We
mean not that Milton should have neglected
the labours of his predecessors. He believed
justly that all the periods and generations of
the human family are bound together by a
sublime connection, and that the wisdom of

each age is chiefly a derivation from all pre-
ceding ages, not excepting the most ancient,
just as a noble stream, through its whole ex-
tent and its widest overflowings, still holds
communication with its infant springs, gush-
ing out perhaps in the depths of d^tant
forests, or on the heights of soUtary moun-
tains. We only mean to say, that the stream
of religious knowledge is to swell and grow
through its whole course, and to receive new
contributions from gifted minds in successive
generations. We only regret that Milton
did not draw more from the deep and full
fountains of hb own souL We wish only to
teach that antiquity was the in£uicy of our
race, and that its acquisitions, inst^d <^
being rested in, are to bear us onward to new
heights of truth and virtue. We mean not to
complain of Milton for not doing more. He
rendered to mankind a far greater service than
that of a teacher of an improved theology.
He taught and exemplified that spirit of in-
tellectual freedom, through which all the
great conquests of truth are to be achieved,
and by whk:h the human mind is to attain
to a new consck>usness of its sublime facul-
ties, and to invigorate and expand itself for

We here close our remarics on Milton. I n
offering this tribute, we have aimed at some-
thing higher than to express and gratify our
admiration of an eminent man. We believe
that an enlightened and exalted mind is a
brighter roani£estatk>n of God than the out-
w£uxl universe ; and we have set forth, as we
have been able, the praises of an illustrious
servant of the Most High, that, through him,
gloiy may redound to the Father of all spirits,
the Fountain of all wisdom and magnanimous
virtue. And still more; we Iselieve that the
sublime intelligence of Milton was imparted,
not for his own sake only, but to awaken
kindred virtue and greatness in other souls.
Fai from regarding him as standing alone
and unapproachable, we believe that he is an
illustration of what all, who are true to their
nature, will become in the progress of their
being ; and we have held him forth, not to
excite an ineffectual admiration, but to stir
up our own and others' breasts to an exhi-
larating pursuit of high and ever-growing
attainments in intellect and virtue.


(8«iecttoM from the writtags of F*nf «» ; *rtth an Ap. book which Stands at the head of this article.
ES£?: uu£S?tAy^L3S.Sd wukL ?ai.f^^ An attractive and quickening work on prac-
tical religion we regard as a valuable acccsskxi
WE perform a very gratifying duty in Intro- to our literature. Indeed aiiythrag written
dudng and recommending to our readers the with power on Christian morals ftod theo^^

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is most welcome. It is too true, and a sad
truth, that religious books are pre-eminently
dull. If we wished to impoverish a man's
intellect, we could devise few noeans more
effectual than to confine him to what is called
a course of theological reading. The very sub-
ject to which, above all others, the writer should
bring his whole strength of thought and feel-
ing, which allies itself to our noblest faculties,
to which reason, imagination, taste, and
l^enius should consecrate their noblest efforts,
IS of all subjects treated most we^ly, tamely,
and with least attraction. Of course there are
splendid exceptions, but we speak of the
immense majority of theological books. It
is wonderfiil how men can think and write
upon religion to so little effect That a theme
so vast, so sublime as Christianity, embracing
God and nmn, earth and heaven, time and
eternity, connected intimately with all human
history, deriving lights from all human ex-
perience, admitting application to the whole
of human life, and proposing as its great end
the e\'erlasting progress of the soul— that
such a subject should be treated so mono-
tonously as to be proverbially dull, that its
professed explorers should be able to plant
their footsteps so exactly in the track of their
predecessors, that the boundlessness of the
field should so seldom tempt an adventurous
spirit from the beaten way, is wonderful, and
might seem a miracle to a man unacquainted
with the vassalage which has broken down
the mind in the department of religion. It is
true that those who write on this topic are
accustomed to call it sublime : but they make
its sublimity cold and barren, like that of
mountain-tops wrapped in everlasting snows.
We write this, not in severity, but in sorrow
of heart ; for we despair of any great progress
of the human character or of society, until
the enerigies oT the mind shall be bent, as
they seldom have been, on those most im-
portant subjects and interests of the human
mind, mor^ and religion.

As a striking proof of the poverty of re-
h'gious literature, and of the general barren-
ness of the intellect when employed in this
field, we may refer to the small amotmt of
original and productive thought in the English
Church since the days of Barrow and Taylor.
Could our vmce be heard in England, we
would ask impartial and gifted men, more
fiuniliar with their countxys history than
ourselves, to solve the problem, how a
Protestant Establishment, so munificently
endowed with the means of improvement,
should have done so little in ao long a
period for Christianity; should have pro-
duced so few books to interest the higher
order of minds. Let not these remarics be
misunderstood, as if we were wanting in re-
spect and gratitude to a church which, with

all its defects, has beeir the bulwark of Protes-
tantism, which has been illustrated by the
piety and virtues of such men as Bishops
Wilson, Berkeley, and Heber. and in which
have sprung up so many institutions conse-
crated to humanity, and to the dif^sion of
the Christian faith. We mean not to deny it
the honour of having fostered talent in various
forms and directions. Among the English
clergy we find profound and elegant scholars ;
we find the names of those giants in ancient
learning, Bentley and Parr, and a crowd of
proficients in polite literature, of whom Hurd
and Jortin are honourable representatives.
We speak only of the deficiency of their con-
tributions to moral and religious science.
With the exception of Clarke and Butler, we
could not easily name any of the Establish-
ment, since the time above specified, who
have decidedly carried forward the human in-
tellect. The latter of these is indeed a great
name, notwithstanding the alleged obscurities
of his style, and worthy to be enrolled among
the master-spirits of the human race. In
regard to oomraentators, whose function, as
commonly executed, holds a second rank in
theology, the English Church, since the time
of Hammond, has produced none of much
value, except Bishop Pearce. We presume
that she will not lay claim to the heretical
Locke, who carried into the interpnxtation of
the Saipttu^ the same force of thought as
into the philosophy of the mind ; or to
Whitby, whose strenuous Arm inianism. as Or-
thodoxy would reproachingly say, tapered off
into that most suspicious form of Christianity,
Unitarianism. We have not yet named two
of the most illustrious intellectual chiefs of
the church, Warburton and Horsley. Their
great powers we most readily own ; but War-
burton is generally acknowledged to have
wasted his mind, and has left no impression
of himself on later times; whilst Horsley,
though he has given us striking, if not judi-
cious, sermons, in a style of unusual vigour,
caimot be said to have communicated in any
respect a new imfmlse to thought, and in
Biblical criticism, to which be was zealously
devoted, he is one of the last authorities on
which a sound mind would lean. To Bishops
Lowth and Sherlock we cheerfully acknow-
ledge our obligations ; and we question
whether the latter has even yet received his
due praise. We have not forgotten, though
we have not named. Tillotson, Seeker, and
Porteus. They are all worthy of remem-
brance, especially Seeker, the dear and wise
expounder of Christian ethics ; but they added
little or nothing to the stock which they re-
ceived. It may be thought that we have not
been just to the EstabUshmcnt, in passing
over Paley. He has our sincere adnmation.
On one great topic, which indeed has been

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worthily treated by many of the clergy—we
mean that of Christian evidence— he has shed
new light. By felicity of arrangement and
illustration, he has given an air of novelty to
old arguments, whilst he has strengthened
his cause by important original proofs. His
Hortg Paulina is one of the few books des-
tined to live. Palcy saw what he did see
through an atmosphere of light. He seized
on the strong points of his subject with an
intuitive sagacity, and has given his clear,
bright thoughts in a style which has made
them the property of his readers almost as
perfectly as they were his own. In what, then,
did he fail ? We have said that he was cha-
racterized by the distinctness of his vision.
He was not, we think, equally remarkable for
its extent. He was popular, rather than phi-
losophical. He was deficient in that intellec-
tual thirst which is a chief element of the
philosophical spirit. He had no irrepressible

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 101 of 169)