William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 37 of 169)
Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 37 of 169)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be taught, by the joys which he could not
partake, his own loneliness and desolation?
These views, I know, are often given with
greater or less distinctness ; but they seem to
me not to have brought home to men the
truth, that the fountain of happiness must be
in our own souls. Gross ideas of futurity
still prevail. I should not be surprised if to
some among us the chief idea of heaven were
that of a splendour, a radiance, like that
which Christ wore on the Motmt of Trans-
figuration. Let us all consider—and it is a
great truth — that heaven has no lustre sur-
passing that of intellectual and moral worth ;
and that, were the effulgence of the sun and
stars concentrated in the Christian, even this
would be darkness compared with the pure
beamings of wisdom, love, and power from
his mind. Think not, then, that Christ has
come to give heaven as somediing distinct
from virtue. Heaven is the (reed and sancti-



Digitized by V^OOQIC



6^ CHRISTIANITY.



1^1



fied mind, enjoying God through accordance
with his attributes, multiplying its bonds and
sympathies with excellent things, putting
forth noble powers, and ministering in union
with the enlightened and holy to the happiness
and virtue of the universe.

My friends, I fear I have been guilty of
repetition. But I feel the greatness of the
truth which I deliver, and I am anxious to
make it plain. Men need to be taught it
perpetually. They have always been inclined
to look to Christ for something better, as they
have dreamed, than the elevation of their
own souls. The great purpose of Christianitv
to unfold and strengthen and lift up the mina,
has been perpetually thrown out ot sight. In
truth, this purpose has been more than over-
looked. It has been reversed. The very
religion given to exalt human nature has been
used to make it abject. The very religion
which was given to create a generous hope,
has been made an instrument of servile and
torturing fear. The very religion which came
from God's goodness to enlarge the human
soul with a kindred goodness, has been em-
ployed to narrow it to a sect, to rear the
Inqtiisition, and to kindle fires for the martyr.
The very religion given to make the under-
standing and conscience free has. by a criminal
perversion, served to break them into sub-
jection to priests, ministers, and human creeds.
Ambition and craft have seized on the solemn
doctrines of an omnipotent God and of future
punishment, and turned them info engines
against the child, the trembling female, the
ignorant adult, until the sceptic has been
emboldened to charge on religion the chief
miseries and degradation of human nature.
It is from a deep and sorrowful conviction of
the injuries inflicted on Christianity and on
the human soul by these perversions and
errors, that 1 have reiterated the great truth
of this discourse. I would rescue our holy
faith from this dishonour. Christianity has
DO tendency to break the human spirit or to
make man a slave. It has another aim ; and,
as£aras it is understood, it puts forth another



power. God sent it from heaven, Christ
sealed it with his blood, that it might give
force of thought and purpose to the human
mind, might free it from all fear but the fear
of wrong-doing, might make it free of its
fellow-beings, might break from it every
outward and inwud chain.

My hearers, I close with exhorting you to
remember this great purpose of our religion.
Receive Christianity as given to raise vou in
the scale of spiritual being. Expect from it
no good any farther than it gives strength and
worth to your characters. Think not, as
some seem to think, that Christ has a higher
gift than purity to bestow, even pardon to the
sinner. He does bring pardon. But once
separate the idea of pardon from purity;
once imagine that forgiveness is possible to
him who does not forsake sin ; once make it
an exemption firom outward punishment, and
not the admission of the reformed mind to
favour and communion with God; and the
doctrine of pardon becomes your peril, and a
system so teaching it is fraught with evil.
Expect no good from Christ any farther than
you are exalted by his character and teaching.
Expect nothing from his cross unless a power
comes from it strengthening vou to "bear
his cross." to " drink his cup, ' with his own
unconquerable love. This is its highest in
fluence. Look not abroad for the blessings
of Christ. His reign and chief blessings are
within you. The human soul is his kingdom.
There he gains his victories, there rears his
temples, there lavishes his treasures. His
noblest monument is a mind redeemed from
iniquity, brought back and devoted to God,'
forming itself after the perfection of the
Saviour, great through its power to suffer for
truth, lovely through its meek and gentle
virtues. No other monument does Christ
desire; for this will endure and increase in
splendour when earthly thrones shall have
fallen, and even when the present order of the
outward universe shall have accomplished its
work and shall have passed away.



MEANS OF PROMOTING CHRISTIANITY.



We live at a time when the obligation of ex-
tending Christianity is more felt than in many
past ages. There is much stir, motion, and
zeal around us in this good cause. Even those
who seem not to be burdened by an excess
of piety themselves are in earnest to give it to
others. The activity of multitudes is taking
strongly this direction ; and as men are natu-
rally resdess, and want room for action, and



will do mischief rather than do nothing, a
philanthropist will rejoice that this new
channel is opened for carrying off the supei^
abundant energies of multitudes, even it no
other good should result from it.

We hope, however, much other good. We
trust that, whilst many inferior motives and
many fanatical impulses are giving birth and
action to large associations in Christendom }



Digitized by VaOOQlC



26a



MEANS OP Pl^MOTiNG CNRISTIANITY.



whilst the love of sway in some, and the love
of congregating in others, and the passion for
doing something great and at a distance in
all. are rearing mighty institutions among us,
— still many sincere Christians are governed
in these concerns by a supreme desire of
spreading Christianity. They have found
the Gospel an infinite good, and would com-
municate it to their fellow-beings. They
have drunk from the Fountain of Life, and
would send forth the stream to gladden every
wilderness and solitary place, and to assuage
the thirst of every anxious and afflicted mind.
They turn with continual pleasure to the pro-
phetic passages of Scripture, «nd, interpret-
ing them by their wisnes, hope a roeedy
change in the moral state of the world, and
are impatient to bear a part in this stupendous
renovation. That they are doing good we
doubt not, though perhaps not in the way
which they imagine or would prefer. The
immediate and general success of their at-
tempts would perhaps be ultimately injurious
to Christianity. They are sending out, to-
gether with God's Word, corrupt interpreta-
tions of some parts of it, which considerably
neutralize its saving power, and occasionally
make it a positive injury. They are perhaps
to do good not by success so much as by
failure. Almost all great enterprises are ac-
complished gradually, and by methods which
have been learned from many unsuccessful
trials, from a slow acctmiulation of ex-
perience. The first labourers often do little
more than teach those who come after them
what to avoid and how to labour more
effectually than themselves. But be the issue
what it mav, sincere Christians who embark
in this good work, not from party spirit and
self-conceit, as if they and thdr sect were de-
positaries of all truth and virtue, but from
unaffected philanthropy and attachment to
Jesus Christ, will have their reward. Even a
degree of extravagance in such a cause maj
be forgiven. Men are willing that the imagi-
nation should be kindled on other subjects ;
that the judgment should sometimes slumber,
and leave the affections to feed on hopes
brighter than reality; that patriotism, and
philanthropy, and the domestic affections
should sometimes break out in chivalrous
enterprises, and should seek their ends by
means on which the reason may look coldly.
Why, then, shall we frown on every deviation
from the strictest judiciousness in a concern
which appeals so strongly to the heart as the
extension of Christianity ? Men may be too
rational as w^ as too fervent ; and the man
whose pious wish of the s)>eedy conversion of
the world rises into a strong anticipation of
the event, and who, taking his measure of
duty from the primitive disciples, covets sacri-
fices in so good a cause, is an incomparably



nobler spirit than he who, believing that the
moral condition of the world vidS invariable
as the laws of material nature, and seeking pre-
texu for sloth in a heart-chilling philosophy,
has no concern for the multitudes who are
sitting in darkness, and does nothing to spread
the religion which he believes to have come
from Heaven.

There is one danger, however, ftt a period
like the present, when we are aiming to send
Christianity to a distance, which demands
attention. It S% the danger of neglecting the
best methods of propagating Christianity, of
overlooking much plainer obligations than
that of converting heathens, of forgetting the
claims of our religion at home and by our
firesides. It happens that on this, as on
almost every subject, our most important
duties are quiet, retired, noiseless, attracting
little notice, and administering little powerful
excitement to the imagination. The surest
efforts for extending Christianity are those
which few observe, which are recorded in no
magasine, blaxoned at no anniversaries, im-
mortalized by no eloquence. Such efforts,
being enjoined only by conscience and God.
and requiring steady, patient, unwearied toil,
we are apt to overlook, and perhaps never
more so than when the times furnish a popular
substitute for them, and when wecandischaige
our consciences by labours which, demanding
little self-denial, are yet talked of as the
highest exploits of Christian charity. Hence
it is that when most is said of labours to pro-
pagate Christianity, the least may be really
and effectually done. We hear a torrent roar-
ing, and imagirte that the fields are plentifully
watered, when the torrent owes its violence
to a ruinous concentration of streams which
before moved quietly in a thousand little
channels, moistening the hidden roots, and
publishing their course, not to the ear but to
the eye, by the reflreshlng verdure which grew
up around them. It is proper, then, when
new methods are struck out for sending Chris-
tianity abroad, to remind men often of the
old-fashioned methods of promoting it, to
insist on the superiority of the means which
are in almost every man's reach, which require
no extensive associations, and which do not
subject us to the temptations of exaggerated
praise. We do not mean that any exertion
which promises to extend our religion in any
tolerable state of purity is to be declinccf.
But the first rank is to be given to the efforts
which God has made the plain duties of men
in all ranks and conditions of life. Two of
these methods will be briefly mentioned.

First, eveiy individual should feel that,
whilst his influence over other men's hearts
and character is very bounded, his power over
bis own heart is great and constant, and that
his zeal for extending Christianity is to appear



Digitized by V^OOQIC



MEANS OF PROMOtINn CHRISTfAMlTY,



163



chiefly in extending it through his own mind
and Ufe. Let him remember that he as truly
enlarges God's kingdom by invigorating his
own moral and religious principles, as by com-
municating them to others. Our first concern
is at home, our chief work is In our own
breasts. It is idle to talk of our anxiety for
other men's souls if we neglect our own.
Without personal virtue and religion we
cannot, even if we would, do much fbr the
cause of Christ. It is only by purif3rlng our
own conceptions of God and duty that we can
give clear and useful views to others. We
must first feel the power of religion, or we
cannot recommend it with an un^ected and
prevalent zeaL Would we, then, promote pure
Christianity ? Let us sec that it be planted
and take root in our own minds, and that
no busy concern for others take us from the
labour of self-inspection and the retired and
silent offices of piety.

The second method is intimately connected
with (he first. It is example. This is a
means within the reach of all. Be our
station in life what it may, it has duties, in
performing which faithfully we give important
aid to the cause of morality and piety. The
efficacy of this means of advancing Chris-
tianity cannot be easily calculated. Ex-
ample has an insinuating power, transforming
the observer without noise, attracting him
without the appearance of effort. A truly
Christian Ufe is better than large contribu-
tions of wealth for the propagation of Chris-
tianity. The most prominent instruction of
Jesus on this point is that we must let men
" see our good works," if we would lead
them to "glorify our Father in heaven."
Let men see in uis that religion is something
real, something more than high-sounding and
empty words, a restraint from sin, a bulwark
against temptation, a spring of upright and
useful action; let them see it not an idle
form, nor ^ transient feeling, but our com-
panion through life, infusing its purity into
our common pursuits, following us to our
homes, setting a guard round our integrity
in the resorts of business, sweetening our
tempers in seasons of provocation, disposing
us habitually to sym\*a.i\iy with others, to
patience and cheerfulness under our own
afflictions, to candid judgment, and to sacri-
fices for others' good ; and we may hope that
our light will not shine uselessly, that some
slumbering conscience will be roused by this
testimony to the excellence and practicable-
ness of religion, that some worldly professor
of Christianity will learn his obligations and
blush for his criminal inconsistency, and that
some, in whom the common arguments for
our religion may have failed to work a full
belief, will be brought to the knowledge of
the truth by this plain practical proof of the



heavenly natiure of Christianity. Every man
is surrounded with beings who aie moulded
more or less by the principles of sympathy
and imitation; and this social part of our
nature he is bound to press into the service of
Christianity.

It will not be supposed from these remarks
on the duty of aiding Christianity by our
example, that religion is to be worn osten-
tatiously, and that the Christian is studiously
to exhibit himself and his good works for
imitation. That same book which enjoins us
to be patterns, tells us to avoid parade, and
even to prefer entire secrecy in our charities
and our prajrers. Nothing destroys the weight
of example so much as labour to make it
striking and observed. Goodness, to be in-
teresting, must be humble, modest, unassum-
ing, not fond of show, not waiting for great
and conspicuous occasioi>s, but disclosing it-
self without labour and without design in pious
and benevolent offices, so simple, so minute,
so steady, so habitual, that they will carry a
conviction of the singleness and purity of the
heart from which they proceed. Such good-
ness is never lost. It glorifies itself by the
very humility which encircles it, just as the
lights of heaven often break with peculiar
splendour through the cloud which threatened
to obscure them.

A pure example, which is found to be more
consistent in proportion as it is more known,
is the best method of preaching and extend-
ing Christianity. Without it, zeal for con-
verting men brings reproach on the cause.
A bad man, or a man of only ordinary good-
ness, who puts himself forward in this woric,
throws a suspiciousness over the effiarts of
better men, and thus the world come to set
down all labour for spreading Christianity as
mere pretence. Let not him who will not
submit to the toil of making himself better,
become a reformer at home or abroad. Let
not him who is known to be mean, or dis-
honest, or intriguing, or censorious, or unkind
in his neighbourhood, talk of his concern for
other men's souls. His life is an injury to
religion, which his contributions of zeal, or
even of wealth, cannot repair, and its inju-
riousncss is aggravated by these very at-
tempts to expiate its guilt, to reconcile him
to himself.

It is well known that the gp'eatest obstruc-
tion to Christianity in heathen countries is
the palpable and undeniable depravity of
Christian nations. They abhor our religion
because we are such unhappy specimens of
it. They are unable to read our books, but
they can read our lives ; and what wonder if
they reject with scorn a system under which
the vices seem to have flourished so lux-
uriantly. The Indian of both hemispheres
has reason to set down the Christian as little



Digitized by VjOOQIC



164



MEANS OP PROMOTING CHRISTIANITY,



better than himself. He associates with the
name, perfidy, fraud, rapacity, and slaughter.
Can we wonder that he is unwilling to receive
a religion from the hand which has chained
or robbed him? Thus, bad example is the
great obstruction to Christianity abroad as
well as at home; and perhaps Uttle good is
to be done abroad until we become better at
home, until real Christians understand and
practise their religion more thoroughly, and
by their example and influence spread it
among their neighbours and through their
country, so that the aspect of Christian na-
tions shall be less shocking and repulsive to
the Jew, Mahometan, and Pagan. Our first
labour should be upon ourselves ; and indeed
if our reUgion be mcapable of bearing more
fruit among ourselves, it hardly seems to de-
serve a very burning seal for its propagation.
The question is an important one,— Would
much be gained to heathen countries were we
to make them precisely what nations called
Christians now are? That the change would
be benefidal, we grant ; but how many dark
stains would remain on their characters I
Thev would continue to fight and shed blood
as they now do. to resent injuries hotly, to
worship present gain and distinction, and to
pursue the common business of life on the
principles of undisguised selfishness; and
they would learn one lesson of iniquity which
they have not yet acquired, and that is, to
condemn and revile their brethren who should
happen to view the most perplexed points of
theology differently from themselves. The
truth IS, Christian nations want a genuine
reformation, one worthy of the name, lliey



need to have their real directed, not so fbuch
to the spreading of the Gospel abroad as to
the application of its plain precepts to their
daily business, to the education of their chil-
dren, to the treatment of their domestics and
dependants, and to their social and religious
intercourse. They need to understand that
a man's piety is to be estimated, not so much
by his professions or direct religious exercises
as by a conscientious surrender of his will,
passions, worldly interests, and prejudices,
to the acknowledged duties of Christianity,
and especially by a philanthropy resembling
in its great features of mildness, activity, and
endurance, that of Jesus Christ. They need
to give up their severe inquisition into their
neighbours' opinions, and to begin in earnest
to seek for themselves, and to communicate
to others, a nobler standard of temper and
practice than they have yet derived from the
Scriptures. In a word, they need to learn
the real value and design of Christianity by
the only thorough and effectual process ; that
is. by drinking deeply into its spirit of love
to God and man. If. m this age of societies,
we should think it wise to recommend another
institution for the propagation of Christianitv.
it would be one the members of which should
be pledged to assist and animate one another
in living according to the Sennon on the
Mount. How far such a measure would be
effectual we venture not to predict; but of
one thing we are sure, that, should it prosper,
it would do more for spreading the Gospel
than all other associations which are now
receiving the patronage of the Christian
world.



THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY:
Discourse at the Dedication of Divinity Hall, Cambridge, 1826.



LUICB hr. 3a : " His word wu with power."

We are assembled to set apart and consecrate
this building to the education of teachers of
the Christian religion. Regarding, as we do.
this religion as God's best gift to mankind,
we look on these simple walls, reared for this
hol^ and benevolent work, with an interest
which more splendid edifices, dedicated to
inferior purposes, would fail to inspire. We
thank God for the zeal which has erected
them. We thank Him for the hope that here
will be trained, and hence will go forth, able
ministers of the New Testament God ac-
cept our offering and fulfil our trust 1 May
He shpd on this spot the copious dew of his
grace, and compaiss it with bis favour as with
a shield I



To what end do we devote this building?
How may this end be accomplished? These
questions will guide our present reflections.

To what end is this edifice dedicated ? The
answer to this question may be given in
various forms or expanded into various par-
ticulars. From this wide range of topics I
shall select one which, from its comprehen-
siveness and importance, will be acknowledged
to deserve peculiar attention. I say. then,
that this edifice is dedicated to the training
of ministers, whose word, like their Master's,
shall be **with power" Power, energy. eflS-
ciency. that is the endowment to be com-
municated most assiduously by a theological
institution. Such is the truth which I would
now develop. My meaning may easily be



Digitized by V^OOQIC



THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.



i6s



ezplaiiied. By the power of which I have
spoken I mean that strong action of the under-
standing, conscience, and heart, on moral and
rehgious truth, through which the preacher is
qoidcened and qualified to awaken the same
strong action in others. I mean energy of
thou^t and ieeling in the minister, creating
for itself an appropriate expression, and pro-
pagating itsdf to the hearer. What this
power is all men understand by experience.
All know how the same truth differs when
dispensed by difierenl lips; how doctrines,
inert and uninteresting as expounded by one
teacher, come fxaugfat with life from another —
arrest attention, rotise emotion, and give a
new spring to the soul. In declaring this
power to be the great object of a theological
institution, I announce no discoverv. I say
nothing new. But this truth. like many
others, is too often acknowledged only to be
slighted. It needs to be brought out, to be
made prominent, to become the living, guid-
ing principle of education for the ministry.
Power, then, I repeat it, is the great good to
be communicated by theological institutions.
To impart knowledge is indeed their indis-
pensable duty, but not their whole, nor most
arduous, nor highest work. Knowledge is the
means, power the end. The former, when
accumulated, as it often is, with no strong
action of tlie intellect, no vividness of con-
ception, no depth of conviction, no force of
feeling, is of little or no worth to the preacher.
It comes from him as a faint echo, with nothing
of that mysterious eneigy which strong con-
viction throws into style and utterance. His
breath, which should kindle, chiUs his hearers,
and 'the nobler the truth with which he is
charged the less he succeeds in carrying it far
Into men's souls. We want more than know-
ledge. We want force of thought, feeling,
4uid purpose. What profits it to arm the
pupil with weapons of heavenly temper, unless
his hands be nerved to wield them with vigour
and success? The word of God is indeed
" quick and powerful, and sharper than any
two-edged sword;" but when committed to
him who has no kindred energy, it does not
and cannot penetrate the mind. Power is the
attribute which crowns all a minister's accom-
plishments. It is the centre and grand result
in which all his studies, meditations, and
prajrers should meet, and without which his
office becomes a form and a show. And yet
bow seldom is it distinctly and earnestly pro-
posed as the chief qualifilcation for the sacred
office I How seldom do we meet it I How



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 37 of 169)