William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 110 of 169)
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he was often obliged to use a mechanical art
for the benefit of his familv. He made their
shoes ; an occupation of wnich Coleridge has
somewhere remarked, that it has been fol-
lowed by a greater number of eminent men
than any other trade. By the side of his
work-bench he kept ink and paper, that he
might write down the interesting ihoucfhts
which he traced out, or which rushed on him
amidst his humble labours. I take pleasure
in stating this part of his history. The pre-
judice against manual labour, as inconsistent
with personal dignity is one of the most ir-
rational and pernicious, especially in a free
country. It shows how little we comprehend
the spirit of our institutions, and how deeply
we are tainted with the narrow maxims of the
old aristocracies of Europe. Here was a man
uniting great intellectual improvement with
refinement of manners, who had been trained
under unusual severity of toil. This country
has lost much physical and moral strength,
and its prosperity is at this moment depressed
bv the common propensity to forsake the
plough for less manly pursuits, which are
thought, however, to promise greater dignity
as well as ease.

His first book was a series of letters to a
Baptist minister, and in this he gave promise
of the direction which the efforts of his fife
were to assume. The great object of these
letters was, not to settle the controversies
about baptism, about the -mode of adminis-
tering it, whether by immersion or sprinkhng,
or about the proper subjects of it, whether
children or adults alone.' His aim was to
show that these were inferior questions, that
differences about these ought not to divide
Christians, that the "close communion," as
it is called, of the Baptists, was inconsistent
with the liberal spirit of Christianity, and that
this obstruction to Christian unity ought to be

His next publication was what brought him
into notice, and gave him an important place
in our theological history. It was a publication
on the Trinity ; and what is worthy of remark,
it preceded the animated controversy on that
point which a few years after agitated this
city and common weiUth. The mind of Dr.
Worcester was turned to this tppig not by
foreign impulses, but by its own workings.
He had been brought up in the strictest sect,
that is, as a Calvinist. His first doubts as to
the Trinity arose from the confusion, the per-
plexity, into which his mind was thrown by
this doctrine in his acts of devotion. To
worship three persons as one and the some

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God, as one and the same being, seemed to
him difficult, if not impossible. He accordingly
resolved to- read and examine the Scriptures
from beginning to end, for the purpose of
ascertaining the true doctrine respecting God,
and the true rank of Jesus Christ. The views
at which he arrived were so different from
what prevailed around him, and some of them
so peculiar, that he communicated them to the
pubUc under the rather quaint title of " Bible
News relating to the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit." His great aim was to prove that the
Supreme God was one person, even the
Father, and that Jesus Christ was not the
Supreme God, but his Son in a strict and
peculiar sense. This idea of "the pecuUar
and natural sonship" of Christ, by which he
meant that Jesus was derived from the very
substance of the Father, had taken a strong
hold on his mind, and he insisted on it with
as much confidence as was consistent with his
deep sense of fallibility. But, as might be
expected in so wise and spiritual a man, it
faded more and more from his mind, in pro-
portion as he became acquainted with and
assimilated to the true glory of his Master.
In one of his unpublished manuscripts, he
gives an account of his change of views in
this particular, and without disclaiming ex-
pressly the doctrine which had formerly
seemed so precious, he informs us that it had
lost its importance in his sight. The moral,
spiritual dignity of Christ had risen on his
mind in such splendour as to dim his old idea of
"natural sonship." In one place he affirms,
" I do not recollectan instance [ in theScriptures]
in which Christ is spoken of as loved, honoured,
or praised, on any other ground than his Moral
dignity." This moral greatness he declares
to be the highest with which Jesus was clothed,
and expresses his conviction, "that the con-
troversies of Christians about his natural dig-
nity had tended very little to the honour of
their Master, or to their outi advantage."
The manuscript to which I refer was written
after his seventieth year, and is very illustra-
tive of his character. It shows that his love
of truth wa? stronger than the tenacity with
which age commonly clings to old ideas. It
shows him superior to the theory which more
than any other he had considered his own,
and which had been the fruit of very laborious
study. It shows how strongly he felt that
progress was the law and end of his being,
and how he continued to make progress to the
last hour. The work called "Bible News"
drew much attention, and converted not a few
to the doctrine of the proper unity of God.
Its calm, benignant spirit had no small in-
fluence in disarming prejudice and unkindness.
He found, however, that his defection from
his original faith had exposed bim to much
suspickm and reproach ; and he became at

length so painfully impressed with the mtole*
ranee which his work had excited, that b«
published another shorter work, called " Let-
ters to Trinitarians," a work breathing the
veryspirit of Jesus, and intended to teach that
diversities of opinion on subjects the most
mysterious and perplexing ought not to sever
friends, to dissolve the Christian tie, to di\*ide
the church, to fasten on the dissenter from the
common faith the charge of heresy, to array
the disciples of the Prince of Peace in hostile
bands. These works obtained such favour,
that he was sohcited to leave the obscure town
in which he ministered, and to take charge,
in this place, of a periodical culled at first the
Christian Disciple, and'ijow better known as
the Christian Examiner. At that time (about
twenty-five years ago) I first saw him. Long
and severe toil, and a most painful disease,
had left their traces on his once athletic frame :
but his countenance beamed with a benignity
which at once attracted confidence and afiec-
tion. For several years he consulted me
habitually in the conduct of the work which
he edited. I recollect with admiration the
gentleness, humility, and sweetness of temper
with which he endured freedoms, corrections,
retrenchments, some of which I feel now to
have been unwarranted, and which no other
man would so kindly have borne. This work
was commenced very much for doctrinal dis-
cussions, but his spirit could not brook such
limitations, and he used its pages more and
more for the dissemination of his prindples of
philanthropy and peace. At length he gave
these principles to the world in a form whidi
did much to decide his future career. He
published a pamphlet, called "A Solemn
Review of the Custom of War." It bore no
name, and appeared without recommendation,
but it immediately seized on attention. It
was read by multitudes in this countrv. then
published in England, and translated, as I
have heard, into several languages of Europe.
Such was the impression made by this work,
that a new association, called the Peatie
Society of Massachusetts, was instituted in
this place. I well recollect the day ot its
formation in yonder house, then the par-
sonage of this parish; and if there was a
happy man that day on earth, it ^-as the
founder of this institution. Tliis society gave
birth to all the kindred ones in this country, and
its influence was felt abroad. Dr. Worcester
assumed the charge of its periodical, and
devoted himself for years to this cause, with
unabating faith and zeal; and it may be
doubled whether any man who cs\*er lived
contributed more than he to ^read justseo-
timents on the subject of war, and to hoRMn
the era of universal peace. He be^^iA lib
efforts in the darkest day, when the yI '
civilized world was shaken by conflict; \

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threatened with military despotism. He lived On the subject of war, Dr. Worcester
to see more than twenty vears of general adopted opinions which are thought by some
peace, and to see through these years a mul- to be extreme. He interpreted literally the
tiplication of national ties, an extension of precept, Resist not e\il ; and he believed that
commercial- communications, an establish- nations, as well as individuals, would find
ment of new connections between Christians safety, as well as "fulfil righteousness," in
and learned men through the world, and a yielding it literal obedience. One of the
growing reciprocity of friendly and beneficent most striking traits of his character was his
infltience among different States, all giving confidence in the power of love, I might say
aid to the principles of peace, and encourag- in its omnipotence. He believed that the
ing hopes which a century ago would have surest way to subdue a foe was to become his
been deemed insane. friend ; that a true benevolence was a surer
The abolition of war, to which this good defence than swords, or artillery, or walls of
man devoted himself, is no longer to be set adamant He believed that no mightier roan
down as a creation of fancy, a dream of ever trod the soil of America than William
enthusiastic philanthropy. War rests on Penn, when entering the wilderness unarmed,
opinion; and opinion is more and more and stretching out to the savage a hand which
withdrawing its support. War rests on con- refused all earthly weapons, in token of
tempt of human nature; on the long, mourn- brotherhood and peace. There was some-
fiil habit of regarding the mass of human thing grand in the calm confidence with which
beings as machines, or as animals having no he expressed his conviction of the superiority
higher use than to be shot at and murdered of moral to physical force. Armies, fiery
for the glory of a chief, for the seating of this passions, quick resentments, and the spirit of
or that family on a throne, for the petty inte- vengeance, miscalled honour, seemed to him
rests or selfish rivalries which have inflamed weak, low instruments, inviting, and often has-
States to conflict. Let the worth of a human tening, the ruin which they are used to avert,
being be felt; let the mass of a people be Many will think him in error; but if so, it
elevated ; let it be understood that a man was a grand thought which led him astray,
was made to enjoy inalienable rights, to im- At the age of seventy, he felt as if he had
prove lofty powers, to secure a vast happi- discharged his mission as a preacher of peace,
ness ; and a main pillar of war will fall. And and resigned his oflfice as Secretary to the
Ss it not plain that these views are taking place Society, to which he had given the strength
of the contempt in which man has so long of many years. He did not, however, retire
been held ? War finds another support in to unfruitful repose. Bodily infirmity had
the prejudices and partialities of a narrow increased, so that he was very much confined
patriotisro. Let the great Christian principle to his house ; but he returned with real to the
of human brotherhood be comprehended, let studies of his early life, and produced two
the Christian spirit of universal love gain theological works, one on the Atonement,
gromid, and just so fast the custom of war, the other on Human Depravity, or the moral
so long the pride of men, will become their state of man by nature, which I regard as
abhorrence and execration. It is encouraging among the most useful books on these long-
to see how outward events are concurring agitated subjects. These writings, particu-
wilh the influences of Christianity in pro- larly the last, have failed of the popularity
tnoting peace; how an exclusive nationality which they merit in consequence of a defect
is 3riekling to growing intercourse; how dif- of style, which may be traced to his defective
ferent aations. by mutual visits, by the inter- education, and which naturally increased with
change of thoughts and products, by study- years. I refer to his diffuseness— to his
ing one another s language and literature, by inability to condense his thoughts. His
tmioa of efforts in the cause of religion and writings, however, are not wanting in merits
humanity, are growing up to the conscious- of style. They are simple and clear. They
ness of belonging to one great family. Every abound to a remarkable degree in ingenious
railroad, connecting distant regions, may be illustration, and they have often the charm
ifegarded as acccmiplishing a ministry of which original thinking always gives to com-
peAoe. Every year which passes without war, position. He was truly an original writer,
by interweaving more various ties of interest not in the sense of making great discoveries,
aad friendship, is a pledge of coming years but in the sense of writmg from his own
of peace. The prophetic faith with which mind, and not from books or tradition. What
Dr. Worcester, in the midst of universal war, he wrote had, perhaps, been written before ;
looked forward to a happier era, and which but in consequence of his limited reading it
was smiled at as enthusiasm, or credulity, has was new to himself, and came to him with
already received a sanction beyond his fondest the freshness of discovery. Sometimes great
ho^. by the wonderful progress of human thoughts flashed on his mind as if they had
ailairs. been inspirations; and in writing his last

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book, he seems to have felt as if some extra-
ordinary light had been imparted from above.
After his seventy-fiflh year he ceased to write
books, but his mind lost nothing of its
activity. He was so enfeebled by a dis-
tressing disease, that he could converse but
for a few moments at a time ; yet he entered
into all the great movements of the age witb
an interest distinguished from the fervour of
youth only by its mildness and its serene tnist.
The attempts made in some of our cities to
propagate atlicistical principles gave him
much concern; und he applied himself to
fresh inquiries into the proofs of the existence
and perfections of God, hoping to turn his
labours to the account of his erring fellow-
creatures. With this view, he entered on the
study of nature as a glorious testimony to its
almighty Author. I shall never forget the
delist which illumined his countenance a
short time ago, as he told me that he had
just been reading the history of the coral, the
insect which raises islands in the sea. ' ' How
wonderfully," he exclaimed, "is God's pro-
vidence revealed in these little creatures I "
The last subject to which he devoted his
thoughts was slavery. His mild spirit could
never reconcile itself to the methods in which
this evil is often assailed ; but the greatness
of the evil he deeply felt, and he left several
essays on this as on the preceding subject,
which, if they shall be found unfit for publi-
cation, will still bear witness to the intense,
unfaltering interest with which he bound him-
self to the cause of mankind.

I have thus given a sketch of the history
of a good man, who lived and died the lover
of his kind, and the admiration of his friends.
Two views of him particularly impressed me.
Tlie first was the unity, the harmony of his
character. He had no jarring elements. His
whole nature had been blended and melted
into one strong, serene love. His mission
was to preach peace, and he preached it not
on set occasions, or by separate efforts, but
in his whole life. It Drealhed in his tones.
It beamed from his venerable countenance.
He carried it where it is ^ast apt to be found,
into the religious controversies which ragej
around him with great vehemence, but which
never excited him to a word of anger or in-
tolerance. All my impressions of him are
harmonious. I recollect no discord in his
bciiuiiful Ufe. And this serenity was not the
result of torpidness or lameness ; for his
whole li& was a conflict with wliat he thought
error. He made no compromise with the
world, and yet he loved it as deeply and con-
stantly as if it had responded in shouts to all
his views and feelings.

The next great impression which I re-
ceived from him was that of the sufficiency
of the mind to its own happiness, or of its
independence on outward things. He was
for years debilitated, and often a great
sufferer ; and his circumstances were very
narrow, compelling hira to so strict an
economy that he was sometimes represented,
though falsely, as wanting the common com-
forts of life. In this tried and narrow con-
dition he was among the most contented of
men. He spoke of his old.age as among the
happiest portions, if not the very happiest,
in his life. In conversation his religion mani-
fested itself in gratitude more frequently than
in any other form. When I have vii^ited liiin
in his last years, and looked on his ^rene
countenance, and heard his cheerful voices
and seen the youthful earnestness with which
he was reading a variety of books, andMudy-
ing the great interests of humanity, 1 have
felt how Tittle of this putward world is needed
to our happiness. I have felt the greatness
of the human spirit, which could create tQ
itself such joy from its own resources. I
have felt the folly, the insanity, of that pre-
vailing worldliness which, in accumulating
outward ^ood, neglects tlie imperishable soul*
On leavm|: his house and turning ray face
towards this city, I have said to myself, how
much richer is this poor man than the richest
who dwell yonder I I have been ashamed of
my own dependence on outward good. lam
always happy to express my obbgatioos to
the benefactors of my mind ; and I owe it to
Dr. Worcester to say that my acquaintance
with him gave me clearer comprehension of
the spirit of Christ, and of the dignity of
a man.

And he has gone to his reward. He has
gone to that world of which he carried ia
his own breast so rich an earnest and pledge*
to a world of Peace. He has gone lo Jesus
Christ, whpse spirit he &o deeply compre-
hended and so freely imbibed ; and to God,
whose universal, all-suffering, all-embracing
love he adored, and in a humbde measure
made manifest in his own life. But be is not
wholly gone; not gone in heart, for I am sure
that a better world has heightened, nctf ex*
tinguished, his affection for his race; and
not |rone in influence, for his thoughts remain
in his works, and his memory is laid up as ^
sacred treasure in many minds. A spirit so
beautiful ought to multiply itself in those to
whom it is made knowiL May we all bo
incited by it to a more grateful, dieerfol loyv
of God, ahd a serener, gentler, nobkr loveflf
our fellow-creatures 1

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[On the 13th of January, 1840, the steamt)oat Lexington was bumed on Long Island
Sound, about fifQr miles from New York. Of the crew ajid passengers only four escaped.
Among the lost was the Rev. Charles Follen, LL.D. These. circumstances gave occasion
to the following discourse, which was deferred until all hope of the escape of Dr. Follen
was taken away.]

co^^S; ^"oTc^JS.^ Z^:^^'^^ thread wlndipe now and th(;n through awarp

souls 10 him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator." Of dazzling bnglltrleSS ; bUt, IS intCTWOven with

These words suggest a great variety of the whole texture. Not that sufieijng exceeds

thoughts, and might furnish topics for many enjoyment ; not that life, if viewed simply in

discourses. 1 abk now your attention to the reference to pleasure, is not a great good,

ckiuse in which we read of " them that But to every man it Is a struggle. It has

suffer according to the will of God," or by heavy burdens, deep wounds for each; and

divine ordination. I wish to speak of the this 1 state, that we may all of us understand

sufferings of Hfe in general, of their greatness ; that suffering is not accidental, but designed

of their being ordained or intended by God, for us, that it enters into Gods purpose, that

and of their consistency with his goodness ; it has a great work to do, and that we know

and I shall close with reflections suggested by nothing of life till we comprehend its uses,

the particular suffering which we have recently and have learned how to accomplish them,

been called to deplore. God intends that we shall suffer. It b

Suffering fills a large place in the present sometimes said that He has created nothing

system. It is not an accident, an exception for the purpose of giving pain, but that every

to the course of nature, a "strange work" contrivance in the system has good for its

exciting wonder as a prodigy, but it enters object. The teeth are made to prepare food

into every life, and, may 1 not say, enters for digestion, not to ache ; the lungs, to inhale

largely into every life? iJndoubtedly, a great the refreshing air, not to ripen tiie seeds of

amount of sufTering may be traced to human consumption. All this is true, and a beautiful

ignorance and guilt ; and this will gradually illustration of kind purpose in the Creator,

disappear, in proportion to the progress of But it is also true that every organ of the

truth and virtue. Still, under the imperfec- body, in consequence of the delicacy of its

tions which seem inseparable from this first structu.e, and its susceptibility of influences

stage of our being, a great amount will from abroad, becomes an inlet of acute pain,

remain. Youth is slow to see this. It is a remarkable fiict that we know the

Youth, unable to svmpathize with and jnward o^ans chiefly by the pain they have

appreciate sorrows which it has not felt, given. The science of anatomy has grown

and throwing the hght of its own native almost wholly out of the exposure of the frame

joyousiiess over the future, dreams sometimes to suffering; and what an amount of suffering

of a paradise on earth. But how soon does springs from this source? A single ner\e may

it find that blighting changes, solemn events, thrill us with agony. Sleep, food, friends,

break in sternly, irresistibly on its path I And books, all may be robbed of their power to

even when the outward life is smooth and interest, by the irritation of a hltle bunch of

prosperous, how soon does it find in its fibres, which the naked eye can hardly trace.

vehement affections, its unrequited friend- Afterthestudy of ages, the science of medicine

ships, its wounded pride, its unappeascd has not completed the catalogiic of diseases ;

thirst for happiness, fountains of bitterer grief and how httle can its ministrations avert their

than comes from abroad ! Sometimes the progress, or mitigate their pains I Un-

rehgious inan, with good intentions, but doubtcdly this class of pains may be much

wanting wisdom and strength, tries to palliate diminished by a wise self-restraint ; but the

the evils of Ufe, to cover its dark features, to body, inheriting disease from a long line of

exa^erate its transient pleasures, for the ancestors, and brought into conflicts with the

purpose of sheltering God's goodness from mighty elenaents around it, must still be the

reproach. But this will not avail. The seat of mucli sufl'ering. These elements, how

truth cannot be hidden. Life is laid open to grand, how [expressive of God's majesty and

every eye, as well as known by each man's goodness ; yUt now fearful 1 What avails the

experience; and we do and must see that strength of ^e body against thunders, whirl-

sufiering, deep suffering, is one of the chief winds, fierca waves, and fiercer flames, against

elements in our lot. It is not a slender, diuk "the pesliljcncc which walketh in darkness,"

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or the silent exhalation which wasteth at noon-
day ! Thus, pain comes from God's provisions
for the animal frame : and how much comes
from the spirit, and from the very powers and
affections which make the glory of our nature I
Our reason, how is it darkened by prejudice
instilled in early years ; how often is it called to
decide amidst co^icting and nearly balanced
arguments; how often does its light fail, in
the most critical moments of life ! How do
we suflfer from wrong judgments which we
had no means to correct ! How often does
this high power sympathiie with the suffering

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 110 of 169)