William Ellery Channing.

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

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to you exaggeration, or a false sentimentality, poor? Then labour much, let it be a leading

in th* language which pronounces the soul of aim to cherish among them the domestic ana

one poor man worth more than the wealth of benevolent affections. Whoever knows th«

wodds, or than aU material nature, then you poor must know how greatly the aspect of

want the spirit of your function, and cannot their abodes would be changed, and what a

lay ;t asld^ too soon. Go to the poor, to large proportion of their sufferings would be

awaken In them the consciousness of their removed, by the substitution of a true love for

relation to God, and of their immortality, selfishness, passion, and envy, for unkind

Do not go as the representatives ofi^the richer words and unkind deeds. Open within them

c}«5ses. to keep them in order ; but go in the the fountain of kindness. Urge on them

n«tte of CbrlstlEUis. to make them partakers Christianity as a spring of disinterested and

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tender afifecHon. Teach the poor that we
who are prospesous find our chief earthly
happiness in our domestic and other social
bonds, and not in wealth ; and that without
love magnificence is a vain show, and the
palace embosoms less peace than many a
hovel. I insist on this, because it is the
common doctrine of the day that the poor are
to be raised by being taught to save, to hoard,
to economize their scanty earnings. By all
means teach prudence, but do not make the
poor anxious, selfish, sordid. Teach prudence;
but still more teach love; and so doing you
will teach economy. Inspire the poor with
strong and tender affections towards their
families and fellow-creatures, and they will
deny themselves and practise thrift with a
cheerfulness and fidelity not often learned
from the maxims of worldly wisdom.

I must not enlarge more on particular
duties. In general, I would say to you.
Honour your work. Think of it reverently.
I use no exaggeration when I give it a place
among the most important labours of the
times; for it bears on the very evil from which
the social state has most to fear. We are
accustomed to speak of the improvement of
society; but its progress has been attended
with one disastrous circumstance, which at
times almost makes us doubt whether the
good has not been too dearly bought. I
refer to the fact that the elevation of one part
of the community has been accompanied with
the depression of another. Society has not
gone forward as a whole. By the side of
splendid dwellings you descry the abodes of
squalid poverty; and within the city walls,
which enclose the educated and refined, you
may meet a half-civilized horde, given up to
deeper degradation than the inhabitants of
the wilderness. In England, the country
advanced above all others in agriculture,
manufactures, refinement, and literary insti-
tutions, are miserable multitudes, degraded
by dependence, uninstructed even in the being
oi a God, and d^ing of want before their
time; and such is the tendency of modem
civilization through the world. Society is
not only disfigured but endangered by the
poverty, and ignorance, and vice of a multi-
tude of its members; and its security and
happiness demand nothing so imperiously as
that this wretched mass should be enlightened,
elevated, redeemed. Here is the chief sphere
for philanthropy. Inequalities of property
must indeed exist. But can it be necessary
that multitudes of human beings should writhe
under wants and hardships, which palsy and
almost extinguish their spiritual and moral
power? This greatest social evil is beginning
to arrest the attention of the statesman, as
well as of the philanthropist and Christian.
A lotider and louder cry is beginning to break

forth through the civilized world for a social
reform, which shall reach the most depressed
ranks of the community. I see, and rejoice to
see, in your office, my friends, a sign of this
new movement, an earnest of this grand and
holy revolution. I see in it a recognition of
the right of every human being to ^e means
of spiritual development, of moral and in-
tellectual life. This is the most sacred right
of humanity. Blessed are our eyes which see
the day of its recognition. Feel, then, that
you are consecrated to the greatest work of
your age ; and feel that you will be sustained
in it by the prayers and zeal of our churches
and their pastors. If, indeed, your ministry
for the poor should be suffered to decline and
fail, it would be a melancholy proof that our
ministry for the rich is of little avaiL If, in
this age, when the improvement of society is
the theme even of the unbeliever, if, with
every help from the spirit of the times, we,
the pastors of these churches, cannot awaken
in them a sensibility to the intellectual and
moral wants of multitudes around them, can-
not carry home to their consciences and
hearts the duty of raising up their depressed
fellow-creatures, of imparting Christian light,
strength, and comfort to the ignorant and
poor, then it is time that we should give up
our pulpits to others, who will better under-
stand and inculcate the spirit of Christ and his
Apostles. It is time that our lips should be
closed, if we can do nothing towards breathing^
into men the peculiar benevolence of the
Gospel; a benevolence which feels for, and
seeks to elevate and save, the human soul.
It is time, too, that as a class of Christians we
should disappear, if we will not take our part
in the great work of regenerating society. It
is the order of nature that the dead should be
buried ; and the sooner a dead, lifeless, soul-
less sect is buried and forgotten the better.
But, my friends, I cannot fear that you will
be abandoned. Christian love, I trust, has
called you to this work, and will cheer and
strengthen you in your heavenly mission.

Go forth, then, my friends, with a confiding
spirit. Go forth in the strength of faith,
hope, and charity. Go forth to increase the
holiness of earth and the happiness of
heaven. Go to the dark alleys and the '
darker dwellings of the poor. Go in the
spirit of that God to whom the soul of the
poor man is as precious as your own. Go in
the spirit of him who for our sakes was poor,
and had not where to lay his head. Go in
reliance on that omnipotent grace which can
raise up the most fallen, cleanse the most
polluted, enrich the poorest with more than
royal wealth, console the deepest sorrows,
and sanctify the sorest trials of lue. Go cheer-
fully, for into the darkest dwellings you carry
the light of life. And tihink not that you

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ilone visit these humble habitations. God is labours, may the poor man's dwelling become

there, — Christ is there,— ^angels are there, a consecrated place, the abode of love, " the

Feel their presence ; breathe their love ; and house of God and the gate of heaven l"
thiDtigh your wise, unwearied, effectual



NovefPtber 24, 1839.

[The following Charge, although prepared for the occasion, was not delivered, on account
of the Author's state of health.]

Mt Young Friend and Brother,— The and impress from the condition of those
Council here assembled for your ordination whom you teach. I cotmsel you not to be
have assigned me the office of giving you the misled by this natural impression. I see no
Charge; and I perform this work the more great distinction between you and other
cheerfully, because of the relation which has ministers. I advise you to bring habitually
long subsisted between you and myself. You to your mind, not the outward condition of
have grown up from childhood imder my men, but their spiritual nature, their partici-
ministry, and you have given me reason to pation of that "divine humanity" wnich is
beBeve that impressions received in the church the only wealth of rich or poor. The dis-
wboe you have worshipped have, in concur- tinction of rich and poor, what is it in the ^e
rence with other causes, led you to this conse- of reason ? And what should it be to tne
cration of yourself to the pastoral office. Christian teacher ? It docs not penetrate the
Anotl^r consideration, which renders this skin, but is a distinction of clothes, fuel, meat,
occasion still more interesting, is, that you and drink. During life, it avails little or
seem now to be placed, by a kind Providence, nothing against pain, illness, bereavement,
in the sphere for which you are particularly Death turns it to utter scorn. The costliest
fitted, and in which all vour faculties and winding-sheet, the most splendid coffin, can-
affections may be expected to act and unfold not shut out the worm, or protect against the
freely, cheerfully, vigorously, and beneficially humiliation of the tomb. In the next world,
to yourself and others. I remember how, how often will present distinctions be reversed!
long ago, you felt the attraction of this min- The first will be last ; the last first. It be-
isdy; how a thirst for it followed vou to your longs, then, to the Christian teacher to look
(dace of business, and overcame the spirit of through, and for the most part to forget, out-
gain ; and how patiently you have labotured ward distinctions. To the Christian teacher
to furnish yourself thoroughly for the work, all men of all ranks are much the same ; all
These are good auguries, and they shed a rational, spiritual, immortal ; all stained with
bright hope over these solemnities. Listen guilt; all needing to be bom again. Un-
nov. my Brother, to a few counsels which doubtedly he is to adapt himself to differences
may help you to fulfil our hopes. Many of age and education. But in all there is
topics, belonging to this occasion, I formerly the same human heart ; in all the same
enluged upon« in the Charge given to your deep wants, the same chords to be touched,
pred««ssor, to which I refer you. There are the same mighty obstacles to purity to be
others, then omitted or slightly touched upon, overcome. They all need essentially the
to which I now ask attention. same truths, though modified slightly as

You are now set apart to be a Minister at to phraseology and form. There are not
Large. This is the distinction of your office, different gospels for different conditions of
Whilst other ministers gather worshippers men ; but one and the same truth for all ;
faito their churches from all the conditions of just as the same sun sheds the same beams
life, you expect to labour chiefly among the into every human dwelling, and is equally
lesi prosperous, the destitute. It may be needed and equally welcome wherever he
bought, at first, that this peculiarity must shines.

xnake a wide distinction between your office I would not have any class habitually ad-
Ud the common ministry; that it must de- dressed with reference to outward condition.
Mad almost a totally different style of preach- It is a great object in all preaching, no matter
W ; that dl jour labours must take a hue to whom addressed, to raise the hearer above

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his outward eotidWon, to make it seem as
nothing to him in comparison with his im-
mortal spirit and his mward ^-ants. The
poor, should be spoken to as men, and as
standingon the same ground with all other
men. They are not to be condoled with as
objects of peculiar commiseration, but ad-
dressed as those who have the essential goods
of life, who may do its great work, and win
its highest prize. The deepest vice of our
present civilization Is that we count the dis-
tinction between wealth and poverty the
greatest on earth. Do you show that you
count it as nothing.

My Brother, look on your hearers as chil-
dren and heirs of God ; and remember that
your work is to call out and to build up the
divine nature within them; and let such
thoughts give you a consciousness of the dig-
nity of your office. Do not measure this by
the outward condition of those to whom you
preach. Measure it by their souls, and feel
that these are the equals of the most favoured
in outward lot. Some of the community un-
doubtedly think of vou as having little more
to do than to aid in keeping order in the city.
You look infinitely above the order of the
city, though that in its right place is not to be
despised. Your function is to bring men to
obey, not the laws of the land, but the eter-
nal, immutable, celestial law of righteousness ;
not to make them quiet citizens, but members
of the. universal kingdom of God. It is in
seeking this highest end that you will secure
the lower. Religion only serves the state
when it is infinitely exalted above the state,
and taught and cherished for its own peerless
worth. Nothing has so stri{^)ed Christianity
of its power as the conversion of it into a
state machine, as the polluting touch of the
poUtician, who has caused it to be preached
to the lower ranks, and to be professed by the
higher, in order that the old polity, with its
inveterate abuses, may stand fast, and that
the accumulation of property in a few hands
may be undisturbed. Religion, taught for
such ends, is among the worst foes of social
progress. It loses its vitality; it paralyzes
the intellect; it strives to crush by persecution
or disabilities those who would restore its

Primitive purity, or unfold more distinctly its
igher truths ; it teaches pretence to the
great, and breathes servility into the multi-
tude whom it ought especially to imbue with
nobleness of mind. You, my young friend,
have learned that religion has a higher work
to accompUsb than Uiat of police ; that its
aim is to bring the individual, be his rank
what it may, to a coroprehensk>n of his
relation to the Infinite Father and tlie Ever-
lasting World, and to inspire him with dis-
interested love of Otod and man ; and that in
this way alone it makes good citizens, tender


and faithful husbands and w^ves, parents and
children, brothers and sisters, neighbours and

In these remarks I do not m^an that yoU
are never to allude to outward distinctions.
The poor have peculiar difficulties ; but they
must never be left to imagine that they have
all the difficulties of hfe. Their burden is
heavy, but there are still heavier on earth ;
and the same high truths are needed to sus-
tain all the suffering children of humanity.
So they have peculiar temptations ; and yet,
temptations to the very vices which abound
most among the poor are exceedingly power-
ful among the more prosperous, llie poor,
it is said, are peculiarly incited by their con-
dition to envy ; and yet are we sure that there
is less envy among the rich, that there arc
fewer jealousies and heartburnings growing
out of competitions and ncj;lects in fashion-
able life, than spring from indigence ? I am
not sure that there is more discontent among
the needy than among those who abound. I
incUne to think that, on the whole, there is
among the latter less submission to God's Pro-
vidence ; and for this plain reason, that suc-
cess and abundance increase self-will. You
must not, therefore, preach to your congrega-
tion as if they monopolized any \'ice; but
speak to all as partakers of the imiversal cor-
ruption. Never expect to reclaim men from
a vice by singling them out for denunciation ;
but by addressing to them those solemn truths
and motives which are to stir up all men to
resist moral evil.

The sum of what I have now Said is,
do nothing to discotirage your hearers. If
cheering, animating language is to be used
anyvvhere, it is among tlie poor. As a
minister of Christ, you are to encourage.
Unhappily, the Gospel is too often used to
break men's spirits. The Gospel, as too
often preached, instead of being glad tidmgs,
is the saddest news ever told on earth. From
your hps, may it raise the dispirited to effort,
and reveal to the indigent then- boundless

At the beginning of this ministry, it was
thought that its chief benefit would come from
visiting ; and little comparatively was expected
from the pulpit. Experience, however, has
proved that public preaching is a powerful
mstrument for the moral recovciy of the poor.
The nmltitudes who throng the Chapel where
yoti are to labour, and who devour with
earnest attention the words of the minister,
indicate that this is a sphere of action to which
you are to devote much of your energies. You
must Liboiu: to perfect yourself as a preacher.
I say, to perfect yourself; for you \vill do little
unless you aim at perfection. I might, had I
time, repeat many exhortations as to preach-
ing ; but two short rules may suffice you.

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Tucy are t hcse. Preach the Tnilh, and preach
it as the truth.

First. Preach the Truth, and for this end
you must seek and get it ; and this is among
the hardest labours of life. To see things as
they are, to sec ihem through a clear, un-
ccloured medium, to strip them of every
disguise, to put to silence our own passions
and prejudices, to resist the intolerance, the
scniUty, the established errors and earthly
modes of thought, the arrogant pretensions
and the nervous fears of the multitude around
t^, and, amidst all these hindrances and ob-
scurations, to discern the truth in its sim-
plicity and majesty ; this is a labour which
turns to sport the toil of the hands and the
sweat of the brow; and to hold fast this
U'lth openly, fearlessly, amidst outcry, scorn,
desertion, persecution, is a heroism before
which the exploits of conquerors grow vulgar
and tame.

It is a common notion that it is no great
task to acquire religious truths in a country
which enjoys, as we do, a revelation from God.
The revelation is thought to save us the trouble
of research — to do our work for us. But this
b a great error. You should learn that the
^'e^y familiarity of a re\'elation hides its truths
from us, or Is an obstacle to clear comprehen-
sion. Abstract words, continually sounded
in our ears, lose their meaning and force, and
are among the last words which we really
miderstand. The langunge of Christianity,
which has come down from distant ages;
which in every age has received a colouring
fnxn pre>"alcnt errors, passions, and corrup-
tions ; on which men of different conditions,
interests, feelings, and mental powers, have
fastened different interpretations; which we
heard before we couW think, and to which
we attached the narrow, earthly conceptions
of the opening intellect; this language it is an
immense toil to divest of all false associations,
and to restore to its original significance. Add
to this the difficulty which springs from the
refined, spiritual, sublime character of moral
and religious truth, and you will learn what
you must do to seize this pearl of great price.
WTiat a work is it to form a true idea of God;
to separate from Him all material forms and
attributes, sJl human passions and human
limitations ! How hard to separate from Him
all self-reference and arbitrariness, all love of
rule, of homage, and kingly power 1 How
hard to contemplate Him as calm, unimpas-
sioned rea.son ; as impartial, disinterested,
all-comprehending love; as having no will
hut the everlasting law of righteousness ; as
having no favourites; as the ever-present
insnircr and judge of every soul I How hard
to look through the multiplied forces and
a^iendes of the universe, to one central, all-
pervading Power ; beyond the endless muta-

tions and conflicts of human life, to one
unchangeable, all-reconciling Wisdom ! The
true idea of God, that highest thought of
angels, demands for its development the study
of a life. How hard, too, is it to attain
to the true idea of Christian Duty; to
purify this from all debasing mixt\u"es; to
keep it from being stained by the sophisUy
of the passions, by the interpr^ations of
theologians, by the moral standard of our
age, by the spirit and practice of the world
and the church ! How hard, again, to attain
to the true idea of a Man; to discern the
greatness of our nature, and its affinity with
God, amidst its present ruins ; to comprehend
it as revealed m the character and life of
Christ !

Xfy Brother, do not think that you know
the truth because you are familiar with the
words which envelop it. I repeat it, the very
commonness of Christianity tnrows over it a
mist not easily penetrated. You have to break
the spell of habit, the spell of mental associa-
tions stronger than adamant. You must put
forth more force of thought on the religion,
because it is so familiar. A true faith is as
hard an attainment now as in the first age of
Christianity. A revekition is not given to
deliver usirom the toil of seeking truth. This
is the great work of every rational being,
especially the great work oi him who aspires
to bea teacher. Thirst for the truth. Study,
inquire, and pray for it. Welcome it from
whatever quarter it may shine. Be willing to
pay for it the price of ease, honour, life. Of
all crimes, dread none more than that of shut-
ting out God's light from your mind.

But it is not enough to get the truth ; you
must preach it as the truth. Christianity is
often preached as false, or at least as a matter
of doubt. God, Christ, duty, immortality,
the soul, its greatness, its destiny,— these are
spoken of as vague rumours which the teacher
has chanced to hear, and not as realities ; not
as what he knows ; not as matters of deliberate
and deep conviction. Preaching is too often
traditional, conventional, professional, the
repetition of what is expected, of what it is
the custom to say; not the free, natural
utterance of persuasion, of experience, of
truths which have a substantial bein^ within
our souls. Undoubtedly the hearer is culpa-
ble for remaining dead under the light of God's
word ; but how often does the want of life in
the teacher put down the life of the taught !
Do you ask me, how you may come to feel
the reality of the spiritual truths you are to
dispense? I answer, do not hope to ac-
compli'ih this end by the methods commonly
used by fanatics; that is, by inflaming the
imagination ; by representing to yourself, in
material forms, God, Heiven, Hell, the suf-
fering of Christ; or by applying perpetual

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stimulants to the passions. You must unite
the forces of the intellect, the heart, and the
life, and bring them all to bear on this great
end. You must accustom yourself to con-
centrate thought on the truth which you have
gained; you must cultivate the hard but
necessary art of meditation ; and must exalt
meditation into prayer to the Father of light
for his quickening spirit. Nor is this all.
You must inwardly and outwardly live up to
the truth. You must strive against those
appetites and passions which cloud the inward
eye and shut the inward ear. You must be
true without compromise to your convictions
of duty. You must cherish and express dis-
interested affection. It is only by this joint
and vigorous action of the moral and intel-
lectual nature, that spiritual vision becomes
clear; that the spiritual world is opened to
us ; that God, and duty, and immortality
come forth from the clouds which ordinarily
envelop them, into clear and beautiful light;
that God's spirit becomes a distinct voice in
the soul. You cannot labour too devoutly
that the religion which you preach may be-
come thus real to you, may live in your
understanding and heart. Without this,
preaching is a tinkling c)mibal, a vain show.
Without it, there may be prodigies of theo-
logical learning. Without it, there may be
eloquent declaimers, much admired and run
after. But they work on the surface only.
They show themselves, not the truth. *Thcy
may excite transient emotions, but do not
strike the deep fountains of thought and
fcelirvg in the human soul. He, alone, within
whom Christian truth is a living, substantial
presence, can give it forth in fresh, genial,
natural. Quickening tones. Covet, as the
minister's best gift, the divine art of speaking
the truth as truth. Do not speak as a
machine, an echo, but from a living soul.

So important do I hold it to speak the
truth, as truth, that, were I able, I would
describe more particularlv this style of preach-
ing. But words do little to make it intelli-
gible. I might say, that the truth-preacher
is free from all artifices and affectation of
style and manner ; that he is distinguished by
simplicity, earnestness^ naturalness, freedom.
But your own observation and consciousness

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 18 of 169)