William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 36 of 169)
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form "a glorious and spotless church" or
community, to "create us anew after the
image of God," to make us by his " promises
partakers of a divine nature, ' and to give us
pardon and heaven by calling us to repentance
and a growing virtue. In reading the New
Testament I everywhere learn that Christ
Kved, taught, dietl, and rose again, to exert a.



purifying and ennobling influence on th6
human character ; to make us victorious over
sin, over ourselves, over peril and pain ; to
join us to God by filial love, and, above all,
by Ukeness of nature, by participation of his
spirit. This is plainly laid down in the New
Testament as the supreme end of Christ.

Let me now ask, Can a nobler end bb "
ascribed to Jesus ? I affirm that there is, and
can be, no greater work on earth than to
purify the soul from evil, and to kindle in
It new light, life, energy, and love. 1
maintain that the true measure of the glory
of a religion is to be found in the spirit and
power vmich it commimicates to its disciples.
This, is one of the plain teaching of reason.
The chief blessing to an intelligent being,
that which makes all other blessings poor. Is
the improvement of his own mind. Man is
glorious and happy, not by what he has, but
by what he is. He can receive nothing better
or nobler than the unfolding of his own
spiritual nature. The highest existence in
the universe is Mind ; for God is mind ; and
the development of that principle which
assimilates us to God must be our supreme
good. The omnipotent Creator, we have
reason to think, can bestow nothing greater
than intelligence, love, rectitude, energy of
will and of benevolent action; for these
are the splendours of his own nature. We
adore Him for these. In importing these,
He imparts, as it were, Himself. We are too
apt to look abroad for good. But the only
true good is within. In this out^vard uni-
verse, magnificent as it b, in the bright day
and the starry night, in the earth and the skies,
we can discover nothing so vast as thought,
so strong as the unconc^uerable purpose of
duty, so sublime as the spirit of disinterested-
ness and self-sacrifice. A mind which with-
stands all the powers of the outward universe,
all the pains which fire and sword and storm
can inflict, rather than swerve from upright-
ness, is nobler than the universe. Why will
we not learn the glory of the soul? W^ are
seeking a foreign good. But we all possess
within us what is of more worth than the
external creation. For this outward system
is the product of Mind. All its harmony,
beauty, and beneficent influences are the
fruits and manifestations of thought and
love ; and is it not nobler and happier to be
enriched with these energies, from which the
universe springs, and to which it owes its
roagnifioence, than to possess the universe
itself? It is not what we have, but what we
are, which constitutes our glory and fehdty.
The only true and durable riches belong to
the mind. A sotil narrow and debased may
extend its possessions to the ends of the
earth, but is poor and wretched still. It Is
through inward health that we enjoy all out-



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OF CHRISTIA\'1TY,



157



DfArd things. Philosophers teach us that the
nund creates the beauty which it admires in
n Attire; and we all know that, when aban-
doned to evil passions, it can blot out this
beauty* and spread over the fairest scenes the
gloom of a dungeon. We all know that by
vice it can turn the cup of social happiness
into poison,' and the most prosperous con-
dition of life into a curse. From these views
we learn that the true friend and Saviour is
not he who acts for us abroad, but who acts
witli'm, who sets the soul free, touches the
springs of thought and affection, binds us to
God. and, by assimilating us to the Creator,
brings us into harmony with tlie creation.
Thus the end which we have ascribed to
Christ is the most glorious and beneficent
which can be accomplished by any power on
earth or in heaven.

That the highest purpose of Christianity
is such as h^ now been afhrmed, might
easily be shown from a survey of all its doc-
trines and precepts. It might be shown that
every office with which Jesus Christ is in-
vested was intended to give him power over
the human character; and that his great dis-
tinction consists in the grandeur and benefi-
cence of his influence on the soul. But a
discussion of this extent cannot be compre-
hended in a single discourse. Instead of a
general survey of the subject, I shall take one
nature of it. a primary and most important
one, and shall attempt to show that the p^eat
aim of this is to call forth the soul to a higher
life, to a nobler exercise of its power and
affections.

This leading feature of Christianity is the
knowledge which it gives of the character of
God. Jesus Christ came to re\'eal the Father.
In the prophecies concerning him in the Old
Testament, no characteristic is so frequently
named as that he should spread the know-
ledge of the true God. Now I ask. What
constitutes the importance of such a revela-
cion ? Why has tne Creator sent his Son to
make himself known? I answer, God is
most worthy to be known, because He is the
most quickening, purifying, and ennobling
object for the mind ; and his great purpose
in revealing Himself is that He may exalt
and perfect human nature. God, as He is
manifested by Christ, is another name for in-
tellectual and moral excellence; and in the
knowledge of Him our intellectual and moral
powers find their clement, nutriment, strength,
expansion, and happiness. To know God is
to attain to the sublimest conception in the
universe. To love God is to bind ourselves
to a being who is fitted, as no other being is»
to pcmetrate and move oar whole hearts ; in
loving whom we exalt ourselves; in loving
whom we love the great, the good, the beau-
tifttl, and the infinite ; and under whose in-



fluence the soul unfolds itself as a pennnial
plant under the cherishing sun. This con-
stitutes the chief glory of religion. It en-
nobles the soul. In this its unrivalled dignity
and happiness consist.

I fear that the worid at large think religion
a very different thing from what has now been
set forth. Too many think it a depressing
rather than an elevating service, that it breaks
rather than ennobles the spirit, that it teaches
us to cower before an almighty and irresistible
being ; and I must confess that religion, as
it has been generally taught, is anything but
an elevating principle. It has been used to
scare the child and appal the adult. Men
have been virtually taught to glorify God by
flattery rather than by becoming excellent
and glorious themselves, and thus doing
honour to their Maker. Our dependence on
God has been so taught as to extinguish the
consciousness of our free nature and moral
power. Religion, in one or another form,
has always been an engine for crushing the
human soul. But such is not the religion of
Christ. If it were it would deserve no respect
We are not— we cannot be bound to prostrate
ourselves before a deity who makes us abject
and base. That moral principle within vs
which calls us to watch over and to perfect
our own souls, is an inspiration which no
teaching can supersede or abolish. But I
cannot bear, even in way of argument, to
speak of Christianity as giving views of God
depressing and debasing to the human mind.
Christ hath revealed to us God as The
Father, and as a Father in the noblest sense
of that word. He hath revealed Him as the
author and lover of all souls, desiring to re-
deem all from sin, and to impress liis likeness
more and more resplendently on all ; as prof-
fering to all that best gift in the universe,
his " holy spirit ; " as having sent his beloved
Son to train us up, and to introduce us to an
"inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and
unfading in the heavens." Such is the God
of Jesus Christ; a being not to break the
spirit, but to breathe trust, courage, con-
stancy, magnanimity— in a word, all the
sentiments which form an elevated mind.

This sentiment, that the knowledge of God
as given by Christ is important and glorious,
because quickening and exalting to the human
soul, needs to be taught plainly and forcibly.
The main ground of the obligation of being
religious, I fear, is not understood among the
multitude of Christians. Ask them why they
must know and worship God ? and I fear that,
were the heart to speak, the answer would be,
Because He can do with us wliat He will, and
consequently our first concern is to secure his
favour. Religion is a calculation of interest,
a means of safely. God is worshipped too
often on the same principle on which flattery



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158



thM ore at purpose



and personal attentions areiavished on human
stiperiors, and the worshipper cares not how
abjectly he bows, if he may win to his side the
power which he cannot resist. I look with
deep sorrow on this common perversion of
the highest principle of the soul. My friends,
God is not to be worshipped because He has
much to give, for on this principle a despot
who should be munificent to his slaves would
merit homage. He is not to be adored for
mere power ; for power, when joined with
selfishness and crime, ought to be withstood ;
and the greater the might of an evil agent the
holier and the loftier is the spirit which will
not bend to him. True religion is the wor-
ship of a perfect being, who is the author of
perfection to those who adore him. On this
ground, and on no other, religion rests.

Why is it, my hearers, that Gbd has dis-
covers) such solicitude, if I may use the word,
to make Himself known and obtain our wor-
ship? Think you that He calls us to adore
Him from a love of homage or service ? Has
God man's passions for ruling, man's thirst
for applause, man's desire to have his name
shouted by crowds ? Could the acclamations
of the universe, though concentrated into one
burst of praise, give our Creator a new or
brighter consciousness of his own majesty
and goodness ? Oh ! no. He has manifested
Himself to us because in the knowledge and
adoration of his perfections our o\m intellec-
tual and moral perfection is found. What
He desires is, not our subjection, but our ex-
cellence. He has no love of praise. He
calls us as trulv to honour goodness in others
as in Himself, and only claims supreme
honour because He transcends all others,
and because He commimicates to the mind
which receives Him a light, strength, purity,
which no other being can confer. God has
no love of empire. It could give Him no
pleasure to have his footstool worn by the
knees of infinite hosts. It is to make us his
children in the highest sense of that word, to
make us more and more the partakers of bis
own nature, not to multiply sla\'es, that He
hath sent his Son to make Himself knOwn.
God indeed is said. to seek his own glory ;
but the glory of a creator must consist in the
glory of his works ; and we may be assured
that He cannot wish any recognition of Him-
self but that which will perfect his noblest,
highest wotic — the immortal mind.

Do not, my friends, forget the great end for
which Christ enjoins on us the worship of God.
It is not that we may ingratiate ourselves with
an almighty agent wliose frown is destruction.
It is that we may hold communion with an
intelligence and goodness infinitely surpassing
our own ; that we may rise above imperfect
and finite natures; that we may attadi our-
dves by love and reverence to the best Being



in the universe ; and that, through veneration
and love, we may receive into our own minds
the excellence, disinterestedness, wisdom, pu-
rity, and power which we adore. This recep-
tion of the divine attributes I desire especially
to hold forth as the most gloriotis end for
which God reveals Himself. To praise Him
is not enough. That homa^ which has no
power to assimilate us to Him is of little or
no worth. The truest admii^tion is that by
which we receive other minds into our own.
True praise is a sympathy with excellence,
gaining strength t^ utterance. Such is the
praise which God di^mands. Then only is
the purpose of Christ's revelation of God ac-
complished when, by reception of the doctrine
of a Paternal Divinity, we are quickened to
" follow him, as dear children," and are
*' filled with his fulness," and become " his
temples," and *• dwell in God, and hav6 God
dwelling in ourselves."

I have endeavoured to show the great pur-
pose of the Christian doctrine respecting God,
or in what its importance and glory consist.
Had I time I might show that every other
doctrine of our religion has the same end.
I might particularly show how wonderfully
fitted are the character, example, life, death,
resiirrection, and all the offices of Christ, to
cleanse the mind fh^m moral evil, to quicken,
soften, elevate, and transform it into the
divine image ; and I might show that these
are the influences which true fklth derives
from him, and through which he works out
otir salvation. Rut I cannot enter on this
fruitful subject. Let me onl;jr say that I see
everywhere in Christianity this great design
of lit)erating and raising the human mind on
which I have enlarged. I see in Christianity
nothing narrowing or depressing, nothing of
the littleness of the systems which human
fear, and craft, and ambition have engen-
dered. I meet there no minute legislation, no
descending to precise details, nO arbitrary
injunctions, no yoke of ceremonies, no out-
ward religion. Everything breathes freedom,
liberality, enlargement. I meet there not a
formal, rigid creed, binding on the intellect
through all ages the mechanical, passive re-
petition of the same words and the same
ideas ; but I meet a few grand, all-compre-
hending trutlis, which are given to'the soul to
be developed and applied bv itself; given to
it as seed to the sower, to be cherished and
expanded by its own thought, love, and
obedience into more and more glorious fruits
of wisdom and virtue. I see it everywhere
inculcating an enlarged spirit of piety and
philanthropy, leaving each of us to manifest'
this spirit according to the monidons of his
individual conscience. I hear it everywhere
calling the soul to freedom and power, by
calQng it to guard against the senses, the



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OP CHRlSTtANtTY, 159

passions, the appetites, through which it is our times. Some of these I wotiM now briefly

chained, enfeebled, destroyed. I see it every- notice.

where aiming to give the mind power over the 1. There are those who, instead of placing

outward world, to make it superior to events, the glory of Christianity in the pure and

to snifering. to material nature, to persecu- powerful action which it gives to the human

tkm. to death. I see it eveiywherc aiming to mind, seem to think that it is rather designed

gh-e the mind power over itself, to invest it to substitute the activity of another for our

with inward sovereignty, to call forth within own. They imagine the benefit of the religion

us a mighty energy for our own elevation. I to be that it enlists on our side an Almighty

meet in Christianity only discoveries of a vast, Being who does everything for us. To dis-

bold. illimitable character, fitted and designed parage human agency seems to them the

to give energy and expansion to the soul. By essence of piety. They think Christ's gloiy

its doctrine of a Universal Father, it sweeps to consist not in quickening free agents to act

away all the barriers of sect, party, rank, and powerfully on themselves, but in changing

nation in which men have labotired to shut them by an irresistible energy. They place a

up their love ; makes us members of an un- Christian's happiness not so much in powers

bounded family ; and establishes sympathies and affections unfolded in his own breast, as

between man andthewhole intelligent creation, in a foreign care extended over him, in a

In the character of Christ it sets before us foreign wisdom which takes the place of his

moral perfection, that greatest and most own intelligence. Now the great purpose of

quickening miracle in human history, a purity Christianity is not to procure or offer to the

which shows no stain' or touch of the earth, mind a friend on whom it may passively lean,

an excellence unborrowed, unconfined, bear- but to make the mind itself wise, strong, and

ing no impress of anv age or any nation, the efficient. Its end is not that wisdom and

very image of the Universal Father; and it strength, as subsisting in another, should do

encooragesus. by assurance of God's merciful everything for us. but that these attributes

aid, to propose this enlarged, unsullied virtue should grow perpetually in our own souls.

as the model and happiness of our moral According to Christianity, we are not carried

nature. ^ the cross of Christ it sets forth forward as a weight by a foreign agency ; but

the sphit of self-sacrifice with an eneigy never God, by means suited to our moral nature,

known before, and, in thus crucifying selfish- quickens and strengthens us to walk ourselves.

ness, ftecs the mind firom its worst chain. By The great design of Christianity is to build

Christ's restuTcction it links this short Kfc up in our own souls a power to withstand, to

with eternity, discovers to us in the fleeting endure, to triumph. Inward vigour is its

present the germ of an endless future, reveab aim. That we should do most for ourselves

to us the human mind ascending to other and most for others ; this is the glory it con-

worids, breathing a freer air, forming higher fers. and in this its happiness is found.

connections, and summons us to a force of a. I pass to another illustration of the in-

boly purpose becomingsuch a destination. To sensibility of men to the great doctrine, that

conclude. Christianity everywhere sets before the happiness and glory of Christianity con-

us God in the character of infinitely free, sist in the healthy and lofty frame to which it

rich, boundless Grace, in a clemency which raises the mind. I refer to the propensity of

is "not overcome by evil, but overcomes evil multitudes to make a wide separation between

with good;" and a more animating and religion or Christian virtue and its rewards.

ennobling truth who of us can conceive ? I That the chief reward lies in the very spirit

have harder glanced at what Christianity of religion, they do not dream. They think

contains. But who docs not see that it was of being Christians for the sake of something

sent from Heaven, to call forth and exalt beyond the Christian character, and some-

Imman nature, and that this is its great thing more precious. They think that Christ

glory ? has a greater good to give than a strong and

It has been my object in this discourse to generotis love towards God and mankind,

lay open a great truth— a central, all-com- and would almost txmi from him with scorn

prchending truth of Christianity. Whoever if they thought him only a benefactor to the

ratenigently and cordially embraces it, obtains mind. It is this low view which dwarfs the

a standard by which to try all other doctrines, pietv of thousands. Multitudes are serving

and to measure the impJortance of all other God for wages distinct from the service, and

truths. Is it so embraced ? I fear not. I hence superstition, slavishness, and formality

apprehend that it is dinily discerned by many are substituted for inward energy and spi-

who acknowledge it, wniht on many more ritual worship.

it has hardly dawned. I see other views pre- 3. Men's ignorance of the great truth stated

vailing, and prevailing in a greater or less in this discourse is seen in the low ideas

degree among all bodies of Christians, and attached by multitudes to the word salvation.

they seem to me among the worst errors of Ask multitudeswhat is thechief evil from vi^hich



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THE GREAT PURPOSE



Christ came to save them, and they will tell
you, '• From hdl, from penal fires, from future
punishment." Accordinglv, they think that
salvation is something which another may
achieve for them, very much as a neighbour
may quench a conflagration that menaces their
dwellings and lives. "Hiat word hell, which
is used so seldom in the sacred pages, which
in a faithful translation would not once occur
in the writings of Paul, and Peter, and John,
which we meet only in four or five discourses
of Jesus, and which all persons acquainted
with Jewish geography know to be a meta-
phor, a figure of speech, and not a literal
expression, — this word, by a perverse and
exaggerated use, has done unspeakable injury
to Christianity. It has possessed and diseased
men's imaginations with outward tortures,
shrieks, and flames ; given them the idea ol:
an outward ruin as wliat they have chiefly to
dread; turned their thoughts to Jesus as an
outward deliverer ; and thus blinded them to
his true glory, which consists in his setting
free and exalting the soul. Men are flying
from an outward hell, when in truth they
carry within them the hell which they should
chiefly dread. The salvation which man
chiefly needs, and that which brings with it
all other deliverance, is salvation from the
evil of his own mind. There is something
far worse than outward punishment. It is
sin; it is the state of a soul which has re-
volted from God, and cast off its allegiance
to conscience and the divine word; which
renounces its Father, and hardens itself
against Infinite Love; which, endued with
divine powers, enthrals itself to animal lusts ;
which makes gain its god ; which has capa-
cities of boundless and ever-growing love,
and shuts itself up in the dungeon of private
interests ; which, gifted with a self-directing
power, consents to be a slave, and is pas-
sively formed by custom, opinion, and chang-
ing events; wmch, living under God's eye,
dreads man's frown oi; scorn, and prefers
human praise to its own calm consciousness
of virtue ; which tamely yields to temptation,
shrinks with a coward's baseness from the
perils of duty, and sacrifices its glory and
peace in parting with self-control. No niin
can be compared to this. This the im-
penitent man carries with him beyond the
grave, and there meets its natural issue and
inevitable retribution, in remorse, self-torture,
and woes unknown on earth. This we can-
not too strongly fear. To save, in the highest
sense of that word, is to lift the fallen spirit
from this depth, to heal the diseased mind,
to restore it to energy and freedom of thought,
conscience, and love. This was chiefly the
salvation for which Christ shed bis blood.
For this the holy spirit is given ; and to thii
nil the truths of Christianity conspire.



4. Another illustration of the error which
I am labouring to expose, and Which places
the glory and importance of Christianity in
something besides its quickening influence on
the soul, is afforded in the common appre-
hensions formed of heaven and of the methods
by which it may be obtained. Not a few, I
suspect, conceive of heaven as a foreign good.
It is a distant country, to which we are to be
conveyed by an outward agency. How slowly
do men learn that heaven is the perfection of
the mind, and that Christ gives it now just as
far as he raises the mind to celestial truth and
virtue. It is true that this word is often used
to express a future felicity ; but the blessed-
ness of the future world is only a continuance
of what is begun here. There is but one
true happiness—that of a mi&d unfolding its
best powers, and attaching itself to great
objects ; and Christ gives heaven only in pro-
portion as he gives this elevation of character.
The disinterestedness, and moral strength,
and filial piety of the Christian, are not mere
means of heaven, but heaven itself, and
heaven now.

The most exalted idea we can form of the
future state is that it brings and joins us to
God. But is not approach to this great being
begun on earth ? Another delightful view of
heaven is that it unites txs with the good and
great of our own race, and even with higher
orders of beings. But this union is one of
spirit, not of mere place ; it is accordance of
thought and feeling, not an outward relation ;
and does not this harmony begin even now?
and is not virtuous friendship on earth essen-
tially the pleasure which we hope hereafter ?
What place would be drearier than the future
mansions of Christ to one who should want
sympathy with their inhabitants, who could
not understand their language, who would
feel himself a foreigner there, who would



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 36 of 169)