William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 16 of 169)
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which they are brought to sway the outward
and inward life, here, and here only, arc the
measures of human cultivation.

These views show us that the highest cul-
ture is within the reach of the poor. It is
not knowledge poured on us from abroad,
but the development of the elementary prin-
ciples of the soul itself, which constitutes th6
true growth of a human being. Undoubt-
edly knowledge from abroad is essential to
the awakening of these principles. But that
which conduces most to this end is offered
alike to rich and poor. Society and Expe-
rience, Nature an^ Revelation, our chief
moral and religious teachers, and the great
quickeners of the soul, do not open their
schools to a few favourites, do not initiate a
small caste into their mysteries, but are
ordained by God to be lights and blessings
to all.

The highest culture, I repeat it, is in reach
of the poor, and is sometimes attained by
them. Without science, they are often wiser
than the philosopher. The astronomer dis-

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daJns thf'm, bat they look above his stars, to every soul, and are especially to be found

The geologist disdains them, but they look in our moral nature, in the idea of duty, in

deqjcr than the earth's centre; they pone- the feeling of reverence, in the approving

trate their own souls, and find thene mightier, sentence wliich we pass on virtue, in our

tfiviner elements than upheaved continents at- disinterested affections, and in the wants and

test. In other words, the great ideas of which aspirations which carry us towards the In-

I have spoken may be, and often are, un- finite. There is but one way of unfolding

folded more tn the poor man than among the these germs of the idea of God, and thai is,

learned or renowned; and in this case the faithfulness to the best convictions of duty

poor man is the most cultivated, for exam- and of the Divine Will which we have hitherto

pie, take the idea of justice. Suppose a man, gained. God is to be known by obedience,

eminent for acquisitions of knowledge, but in by likeness, by sympathy ; thai is, by moral

whom this idea is but faintly developed, fey means, which are open alike to rich and poor.

Justice he imderstands little more than respect Many a man of science has not known Him,

for the Tights of property. That it means The pride of science, like a thick cloud, has

respect for all the rights, and especially for the hidden from the philosopher the Spiritual

moral claims, of every human being, of the t>un, the only true light, and for want of this

lowest as well as the most exalted, has perhaps quickening ray he has fallen in culture far,

nerer cmered his mind, much less been ex- very far, below the poor,

panded and invigorated into a bmad, living These remarks have been drawn from me

conviction. Take now the case of a poor by the proneness of our times to place human

man, to whom, under Christ's teaching, the culture in physidll knowledge, and especially

idea of the Just has become real, clear, in degrees of it denied to the mass of the

bright, and strong; who recognizes, to its people. To this knowledge I would on no

full extent, the right of property, though it account deny great value. In its place, it is

operates against himself; but who does not an important means of human improvement,

stop here; who comprehends the higher 1 look with admiration on the intellectual

rights of men as rational and moral beings, force which combines and masters scattered

their right to exercise and unfold all their facts, and by analysis and comparison ascends

powers, their right to the means of fmprove- to the general laws of the material universe,

nwnt, their right to search for truth and to utter But the philosopher who does not see in the

their honest convictions, their right to consult force within him something nobler than the

first the monitor hi their o^vn breasts, and to outward nature which he analyzes, who, in

follow wherever it leads, their right to be tracing mechanical and chemical agencies, is

esteemed and honoured according to their unconscious of a higher action in his own

moral efforts, their right, wlien injured, to soul, who is not led by all finite powers to the

smpathy and succour against every op- Omnipotent, and who does not catch, in the

pressor. Suppose, I saj, the poor man to order and beauty of the universe, some

rise to the comprehension of this enlarged glimpses of Spiritual Perfection, stops at the

justice, to rev'ere it, to enthrone it over his very threshold of the temple of truth. Mise-

actions, to render to every human being, rably narrow is the culture which confines the

friend or foe, near or far off, whatever is his soul to Matter, which turns it to the Outward

due, to abstain conscientiously, not only from as to something nobler than itself. I fear the

injurious deeds, but from injurious thoughts, spirit of science, at the present day, is too

judgments, feelings, and words. Is he not a often a degradation rather than the true

more culti\Tited man, and has he not a deeper culture of the soul. It is the bowing down

foundation and stirer promise of truth, than of the heaven-born spirit before unthinking

the student, who, with much outward know- mechanism. It seeks knowledge rather for

ledge, does not comprehend men's highest animal, transitory purposes, than for the

rights, whose scientific labours are perhaps nutriment of the imperishable inward life ;

degradedby in jtist ice towards his rivak, who, and yet the worshippers of science pity or

had he the power, would fetter every intellect contemn the poor, because denied this means

which threatens to outstrip his own? of cultivation. Unhappy poor I shutout

The great idea on whidi human cultivation from libraries, laboratories, and learned insti-

especially depends is that of God. This ft tutes ! In view of this world's wisdom, it

the concentration of all that is beautiful, a\'ails you nothing that your own natiue,

glorious, holy, blessed. It transcends im- manifested in your own and other souls, that

measurably in worth and dignity all the science God's word and works, that the ocean, earth,

treasured up in cyclopaidias or libraries ; and and sky, are laid open to you ; that you may

this maybe unfolded in the poor as truly as acquaint yourselves with the Divine Perfec-

ta the rich. It is not an idea to be elaborated tions, with the character of Christ, with the

by studies, which can be pursued only in duties of life, with the virtues, the generous

leisure or by opnlence. Its dements berong sacrifices, and the beautiful and holy emotions,

F 3

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which are a revelation and pledge of heaven.
All these are nothing, do not lift you to the
rank of cultivated men, because the mysteries
of the telescope and microscope, of the air-

?ump and crucible, are not revealed to you !
would they were revealed to you. I believe
the time is coming when Christian benevolence
will delight in spreading all truth and all
refinements through all ranks of society. But
meanwhile be not discouraged. One ray of
moral and religious truth is worth all the
wisdom of the schools. One lesson from
Christ will carry you higher than years of
study under those who are too enlightened to
follow this celestial guide.

My hearers, do not contemn the poor man
for his ignorance. Has he seen the Right ?
Has he felt the binding force of the Everlasting
Moral Law? Has the beauty of virtue, in any
of its forms, been revealed to him ? Then he
has entered the highest school of wisdom.
Then a light has dawned within him worth
all the physical knowledge of all worlds. It
almost moves me to indignation when I hear
the student exalting his science, which at
every step meets impenetrable darkness, above
the idea of Duty, and above veneration for
goodness and God. It is true, and ought to
be understood, that outward nature, however
tortured, probed, dissected, never reveals
truths so sublime or precious as are wrapped
up in the consciousness of the meanest indi-
vidual, and laid open to every eye in the word
of Christ.

I trust it will not be inferred, from what I
have said of the superiority of moral and
religious culture to physical science, that the
former requires or induces a neglect or dis-
paragement of the latter. No ; it is the friend
of all truth, the enemy of none. It is pro-
pitious to intellect, and incites to the inves-
tigation of the laws and order of the universe.
This view deserves a brief illustration, because
an opposite opinion has sometimes prevailed,
because reproach has sometimes been thrown
on religious culture, as if it narrowed the
mind and barred it against the lights of
physical science. There cannot be a more
groundless charge. Superstition contracts
and darkens the mind ; but that living faith
in moral and religious truth, for which I con-
tend as the highest culture of rich and poor, is
in no respect narrow or exclusive. It does
not fasten the mind for ever on a few barren
doctrines. In proportion to its growth, it
cherishes our whole nature, gives a wide
range to thought, opens the intellect to the
true, and the imagination to the beautiful.
The great principles of moral and religious
science are, above all others, fruitful, life-
giving, and have intimate connections with all
other truth. The Love towards God and man,
which is the centre in which they meet, is the

very spirit of research into nature. It finds
perpetual delight in tracing out the harmonies
and vast and beneficent arrangements of
creation, and inspires an interest in the works
of the Universal Father, more profound, in-
tense, endiuing, than p^losophical curiosity,
I conceive, too, that faith in moral and reli-
gious truth has strong affinities with the
scientific spirit, and thus contributes to its
perfection. Both, for example, have the same
objects — ^that is, imiversal truths. As another
coincidence, I would observe that it is the
highest prerogative of scientific genius to
interpret obsciuv signs, to dart from faint
hints to sublime discoveries, to read in a few
fragments the history of vanished worlds and
ages, to detect in the falling apple the law
whidi rules the spheres. Now it is the pro-
perty of moral and religious faith to see in the
finite the manifestation of the infinite, in the
present the germ of the boundless future, in
the visible the traces of the Incomprehensible
Unseen, in the powers and wants of the soul
its imperishable destiny. Such is the harmony
between the religious and the philosophical
spirit. It is to a higher moral and religious
culture that I look for a higher interpretation
of nature. The laws of nature, we must
remember, had their origin in the Mind oi
God. Of this they are the product, expres-
sion, and type ; and I cannot but believe that
the human mind which best understands, and
which partakes most largely of the divine, has
a power of interpreting nature which is
accorded to no other. It has harmonies with
the system which it is to unfold. It contains
in itself the principles which gave birth to
creation. As yet, science has hardly pene-
trated beneath the surface of nature. The
principles of animal and vegetable life, of
which all organized beings around us are but
varied modifications, the forces which pervade
or constitute matter, and the links between
matter and mind, are as yet wrapped in dark-
ness; and how little is known of the adapta-
tions of the physical and the spiritual world to
one another I Whence is light to break in on
these deptlzs of creative wisdom ? I look for
it to the spirit of philosophy, baptized, hal-
lowed, exalted, made pierdng by a new
culture of the moral and religious principles
of the human souL

The topic opens before me as I advance.
The superiority of moral and religious to all
other culture is confirmed by a throng of
ailments not yet touched. The peculiar
wisdom which this culture gives, by revealing
to us the end, the Ultimate Good of our being,
which nothing else teaches ; the peculiar
power which it gives, power over ourselves,
so superior to the most extensive sway over
the outward universe; the necessity of moral
and religious culture to make knowledge a

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Wfwing, to sore it fiom being a curse ; these
ftre weighty considerations which press on my
mind, bat cannot be urged. They all go to
iStkow that the culture which the poor may
receive is worth all others; that in sending
among them religious and moral influences,
you send the highest good of the imiverse.

My friends, I have now set before you the
diiei evils of the poor, and have shown yovL
the greatness and dignity of the culture wmch
is within their reach ; and the great con-
viction which I wish by these views to carry
home to every mind is, that we are solemnly
bound to cb^ish and manifest a strong moral
and rdigioas interest in the poor, and to give
them, as far as we have power, the means of
moral and religious cultivation. Your sym-
pathies with their bodily wants and pains I,
of course, would not weaken. We must not
neglect their bodies under pretence of caring
fenr their souls ; nor must we, on the other
hand, imagine that, in providing for their out-
ward wants, we have acquitted ourselves of all
Christian ol^igations. To scatter from otir
abundance occasional alms is not enough ; we
must bring them to our minds as susceptible
of deeper evils than hunger and cold, and as
formed for higher good than food or the
cheering flame. The love of Christ towards
them diould seem to us no extravagance, no
btittd enthusiasm, but a love due to human
nature in all its forms. To look beyond the
outward to the spiritual in man is the great
distinction of Christian love. The soul of a
itilow-creature must come out, if I may so say,
and become more visible and prominent to us
than bis bodily frame. To see and estimate
the spiritual nature of the poor is greater
wisdom than to span earth or heaven. To
elevate this is a greater work than to build
cities. To give moral life to the fallen is a
higher achievement than to raise the dead
from their graves. Such is the philanthropy
which characterizes our religion; and without
this we can do little effectual good to the

I am here teaching a difficult but great duty.
To acquire and maintain an imafiected con-
viction of the superiority of the spiritual in
man to everythmg outward is a hard task,
especially to the prosperous, and yet among
the most essentiaL In the poor man, walk-
faig through our streets, with a haggard
countenance and tottering step, we ought to
see something greater than all the opulence
and splendour which surround him. On this
foundation of respect for every soul are built
an soda] duties, and none can be thoroughly
performed without it. On this point I feel
that I use no swollen language. Words can-
not escain^erate the worth of the soul. We
have all felt, when locAdng above us into the
atmosphere, that there was an infinity of space

which we could not explore. When I look
into man's spirit, and see there the germs of
an immortal life, I feel more deeply that an
infinity lies hid beyond what I see. In the
idea of Duty, which springs up in every
human heart, I discern a I^w more- sacred
and boundless than gravitation, which binds
the soul to a more glorious universe than that
to which attraction binds the body, and which
is to endure though the laws of physical
nature pass away. Every moral sentiment,
every intellectual action, is to me a hint,
a prophetic sign, of a spiritual power to be
exi^ded for ever, just as a £amt ray from
a distant star is significant of unimaginable
splendour. And, if this be true, is not a
human being wronged, greatly wronged, who
avrakens in his ^ow-creatures no moral
concern, who receives from them no spiritual

It is the boast of our coimtiy that the civil
and political rights of every human being are ^
secured; that impartial law watches alike
over rich and poor. But man has other, and
more important, than civil rights ; and this is
especially true of the poor. To him who
owns nothing, what avails it that he lives in a
country where property is inviolable ; or what
mighty boon is it to him. that every citizen is
eligible to office, when his condition is an in-
superable bar to promotion ? To the poor,
as to all men, moral rights are most impor-
tant ; the right to be regarded according to
their nature, to be regarded, not as animals
or material instruments, but as men ; the
right to be esteemed and honoured according
to their fidelity to the moral law ; and their
right to whatever aids their fellow-beings can
offer for their improvement, for the growth
of their highest powers. These rights are
founded on the supremacy of the moral
nature, and until they are recognized the poor
are deeply wronged.

Our whole connection with the poor should
tend to awaken in them the consciousness of
their moral powers and responsibility, and to
raise them in spirit and hope above their lot.
They should be aided to know themselves, by
the estimate we form of them. They should
be rescued from self-contempt, by seeing
others impressed with the great purpose of
their being. We may call the poor unfor-
tunate, but never call them low. If faithful
to their light, they stand among the high.
They have no superiors, but in those who
follow a brighter, purer light ; and to with-
hold from them respect, is to defraud their
virtue of a support which is among the most
sacred rights of man. Are thev morally
fallen and lost ? They should still learn, in
our unaffected concern, the worth of the
fallen soul, and learn that nothing seems to
us so fearful as its degradation.

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Tbis moml, splntvoJ interest ia the poor,
we should express and make effectual, by ap-
proaching them, by establishing an inter-
course with them, as far as consists with other
duties. We must live with them, not as
another race, but as brethren. Our Christian
principles must work a new miracle, must
exercise and cxpd the spirit of caste. The
outward distinctions of life must seem to us
not "a great gulf," but superficial lines.
which the chances of a day may blot out, and
which are broad only to the narrow-minded.
How can the educated and improved com-
municate themselves to their less favoured
fellow-creatures, but by comii^ near them ?
The strength, happiness, and true civilization
of a community are determined by nothing
more than by this fraternal imion among all
conditions of men. Without this, a civil war
virtually rages in a state. For the sake of
rich as well as poor, there should be a mutual
interest binding them together; there should
be but one caste, that of humanity.

To render this connection interesting and
useful, we must value and cultivate the power
of acting morally on the poor. There is no
art so divine as that of reaching and quick-
ening other minds. Do not tell me you are
unequal to this task. What 1 call yoiuselves
educated, and yet want power to approach
and aid your unimproved fellow-creatures ?
Of what use is education, if it do not fit us to
receive and give freely in our various social
connections? How wasted has been our youth,
if it has taught us only the dialect and man-
ners of a select class, and not taught us the
kmguage of humanity, not taught us to mix
with and act on the mass of our fellow-
creatures ? How far are you raised above the
poor, if you cannot comprehend, guide, or
sway them ? The chief endowment of a
social being— I mean the power of imparting
what is true and good in your own souls — ^you
have yet to leam. You cannot ieam it too

Yes, I call you to seek and use the power
of speaking to the minds oif the ignorant and
poor, and especially of the poor child. Strive,
each of you, to bring at least one human being
to the happiness for which God made bim.
Awaken him to some inward moral activity ;
fcH- on this, not on mere outward teaching,
the improvement of rich and poor alike de-
pends. Strive to raise him above the crush-
mg necessities of the body, by turning him
to the great, kindling purpose of his being.
Show him that the fountain of all happi-
ness is within us, and that this fountain may
be opened alike in every soul. Show him
how much virtue and peace he may gain bv
iidelity to his domestic relations ; bow mucn
progress he may make by devout and reso-
lute use of liis best opportunities ; what a

n^r union he may form with God *^ how-
benchcent an influence he may exert in his
narrow sphere.; what heroism may be exer-
cised amidst privations and pains ; how
suffering may be turned to glory ; how
heaven may begin in the most unprosperous
condition on earth. Surely he who can carrv
such truths to any human being is charged
with a glorious mission from above.

In these remarks I have urged on all who
hear me a personal interest in the moral well-
being of the poor. I am aware, however,
that many can devote but little personal care
to this work. But what they cannot do
themselves, they can do by others ; and this
I hold to be one of our most sacred duties as
Christians. If we cannot often visit the poor
ourselves, we may send those who are quali-
fied to serve them better. We can support
ministers to study and apply the means of
enlightening, comforting, reforming, and
saving the i|porant and depressed. Every
man whom God has prospered is bound to
contribute to this work. The Christian min-
istry is indeed a blessing to all, but above all
to the poor. We, who have leisure and quiet
homes, and can gather round us the teachers
of all ages in their writings, can better dis^
pense with the living teacher than the poor,
who are unused to leam from books, and
miaccustomed to mental effort, who can only
leam through the eye and ear, through the
kind look and the thrilling voice. Send them
the ministers of God's truth and grace. And
think not that this office may be filled by any
who will take it. There are some, I know,
perhaps not a few, who suppose the most
common capacities eaual to the Christian
ministry in general, and who, of course, will
incline to devoh'e the office of teaching the
ignorant and destitute on men unfit for other
vocations. Away with this disgraceful error I
If there be an office worthy of angels, it is
that of teachin^i Christian tmth. The Son of
God hallowed U. by sustaining it in his own
person. All other labours sink before it.
Royalty is impotence and a vulgar show,
compared with the deep and quickening
power which many a Christian teacher has
exerted on the immortal soul. Profound in-
tellect, creative genius, thrilling eloquence, '
can nowhere find such scope and excitement
as in the study and communication of moral
and religious truth, as in breathing into other
minds the wisdom and love which were re-
vealed in Jesus Christ ; and the time will
come when they will joyfully consecrate them-
selves to this as their true sphere. That the
ministry of the poor may be sustained by a
man wanting some qualincations for a com-
mon congregation, is true ; but he needs no
ordinary gifts— a sound judgment, a clear
mind, an insight into human nature, a spirit

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of patient research, the pow^ of familiar and
sinking illustration of truth, a glowing heart.
an unaffected self-devotion to the service of
mankind. Such men we are bound to pro-
vide for the poor, if they can be secured. He
who will not contribute to the moral and
religious culture of the destitute is unworthy
to live in Christendom. He deserves to be
t^uiished beyond the light which he will not
spread. Let him deny nis religion if he will ;
but to believe in it, and yet not seek to impart
it to those who can receive no other treasure,
is to cast contempt on its excellence, and to
harden himself against th§ most sacred
claims of humanity.

My friends, it is a cause of gratitude that
so much has been done in th!s city to furnish
such a ministry as now has been described.
The poor, I believe, are provided for here as
in no other place in our country. The Fra-
ternity of Cliurches, which I address, have
in their service three ministers for this work,
and the number, it is expected, will be in-
creased ; and we all know that they have not
laboured in vain. Their good influence we
cannot doubt. The cause has been signally
prospered by God. Since the institution of

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 16 of 169)