William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 38 of 169)
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often does preaching remind us of a child's
arrows shot against a fortress of adamant I
How often does it seem a mock fight 1 We
do not see the earnestness of real warfare ; of
men bent on the accomplishment of a great
good. We want powerful mUUsters, not

graceful declaimeis, not elegant essayists, but
men fitted to act on men, to make themselves
ftlt in society.

I have said that the communication of
power is the great end of a theological in-
stitution. Let not this word give alarm.
I mean by it, as you must have seen, a
very different power from that which min-
isters once possessed, and which some still
covet. There have been times when the
clergy were rivals in dominion with kings ;
when the mitre even towered above the dia-
dem ; when the priest, shutting God's word
on the people, and converting its threatenings
and promises into instruments of usurpation,
was able to persuade men that the soul's
everlasting doom hung on his ministry, and
even succeeded in establishing a sway over
fiery and ferocious spirits which revolted
against all other control. This power, suited
to bart)arous times, and, as some imagine, a
salutary element of society in rude, lawless
ages, has been shaken almost everywhere by
the progress of intellect ; and in Protestant
countries it is openly reprobated and re-
nounced. It is not to re-establish this that
these walls have been reared. We trust that
they are to be bulwailcs agaiiftt its encroach-
ments, and that they are to send forth influ-
ences more and more hostile to every form of
spiritual usurpation.

Am I told that this kind of power is now
so fallen and so contemned that to disclaim
or to oppose it seems a waste of words ? I
should rejoice to yield mjrself to this belief.
But unhappity the same enslaving and de-
grading power may grow up under Protestant
as under Catholic institutions. In all ages
and all chiuxhes terror confers a tremendous
influence on him who can spread it ; and
through this instrument the Ptotestant min-
ister, whilst disclaiming Papal pretensions, is
able, if so minded, to bmld tip a spiritual
despotism. That this means of subjugating
the mind should be too freely used and dread-
fully perverted, we cannot wonder, when we
consider that no talent is required to spread a
panic, and that coarse minds and hard hearts
are signally gifted for this work of torture.
The progress of intelligence is undoubtedly
narrowing the power which the minister gains
by excessive appeals to men's fears, but has
hi no means destroyed it ; for as yet the
intellect, even in Protestant countries, has
exerted itself comparatively little on religion ;
and ignorance begetting a passive, servile
state of mind, the preacher, if so disposed,
finds little difficulty in breaking some, if not
many spirits, by terror. The effects of this
ill-gotten power are mournful on the teacher
and the taught. The panic-smitten hearer,
instructed that safety is to be found in bowing
to an unintelligible creed, and too agiuted

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for deliberate and vigorous thought, resigns nature's loveliest and sublimest scenerjr never
himself a passive subject to his spiritual wears. He is to speak not of this world only,
guides, and receives a faith by which he is but of invisible and more advanced states of
debaseid. Nor does the teacher escape unhurt ; being ; x)f a world too spiritual for the fleshy
for all lisurpation on men's understandings eye to see. but of which a presage and earnest
begets in him who exercises it a dread and may be found in the enlightened and purified
resistance of the tpith which threatens its mind. He has to speak of virtue, of human
subversion. Hence ministers have so often perfection, of the love which is due to the
fallen behind their ag:e, and been the chief Universal Father and to fellow-beings, of the
foes of the master spirits who have improved intercourse of the soul with its Creator, and
the world. They have felt their power totter of all the duties of life as hallowed and
at the tread of an independent thinker. By elevated by a reference to Qod and to the
a kind of instinct, thev have fought against future world. He has to speak of sin, that
the light before which the shades of super- essential evil, thatonly evil, which, by its un-
stition were vanishing, and have received their utterable fearfulness, makes all other calami-
punishment in the darkness and degradation ties unworthy of the name. He is to treat
of their own minds. To such power as we not of ordinary Ufe, nor of the most dis-
have described we do not dedicate these walls, tinguished agents in ordinary histoxy, but
We would not train here, if we qould, agents of God's supernatural interpositions ; of his
of terror to shake weak nerves, to disease the most sensible and inunediate providence ; of
imagination, to lay a spell on men's faculties, men inspired and empowered to work the
to guard a creed by fires more consuming most important revolutions in society, and
than those which burned on Sinai. Believing especially of Jesus Christ, the Son oif God,
that this method of dominion is among the the theme of prophecy, the revealer of grace
chief obstructions to an enlightened faith, and and truth, the Saviour from sin, the conqueror
abhorring tyranny in the pi^pit as truly as on of death, who hath left us an example of
the throne, we would consecrate this edifice to immaculate virtue, whose love passeth know-
the subversion, not the participation, of this ledge, and whose history — combining the
unhallowed power. strange and touching contrasts of the cross.

Is it. then, asked what I mean by the power the resurrection, and a heavenly throne —
which this institution should aim to coipmu- surpasses all other records in inserest and
nicate ? I onean power to act on intelligent grcmdeur. He has to speak not of transitory
and free beings, by means proportioned to tlieir concerns, but of happiness and misery trans-
nature. I mean power to call into healthy cending in duration and degree the most
exertion the intellect, conscience, afiectionSk joyful and suffering condition of the present
and moral will of the hearer. I mean force state. He has to speak of the fiuntly
of conception, and earnestness of style and shadowed but solemn consummation of this
elocution. I mean that truth should be % world's eventful history ; of the coming of
vital principle in the soul of the teacher, and the Son of Man, the resurrection, the judg-
shouM come from him as a reality. I mean ment, the retributions of the last day. Here
that his whole moral and intellectual faculties arc subjects of intense interest They claim
should be summoned to his work ; that a and should call forth the mind's whole power,
tone of force and resolution should pervade and are infinitely wronged when uttered with
his efforts ; that, throwing his soul mto his cold lips and from an unmoved heart,
cause, he should plead it with urgency, and If we next consider the effects which,
should concentrate on his hearers all the through these truths, the minister is to pro-
influences which consist with their moral duce, we shall see that his fimction demands
freedom. and should be characterised by power. The

Every view which we can take of the first purpose of a minister s function, which is
ministiY vill teach us, that nothing less to enlighten the undersunding on the subject
than the whole amount of power in the c^ religion, is no easy task ; for all religious
individual can satisfy its demands. This truth is not obvious, plain, shining with ao
we learn, if we consider, first, the weight irresistible evidence, so that a glance <^
and grandeur of the subjects which the thought will give the hearer possession of
minister is to iUustnUe and enforce. He is the teacher's mind. We sometimes talk, in-
to speak of God. the King and Father deed, of the simplicity of religion, as if it
Eternal, whose praise no tongue of men or were as easy as a child's book,. as if it might
angels can worthily set forth. He is to speak be taught with as little laboiu- as the alphabet,
of the soul, that ray of the Divinity, the But all analogy forbids us to beheve that the
partaker of God's own immortality, to which sublimest truths can be imparted or gained
the outward universe was made to minister, with Uttle thought or eftort, and the pre-
and which, if true to itself, will one day be valent ignorance confirms this presumption,
clad with a beauty and grandeur such as Obstacles neither few nor amall to a clear

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apprehension of veligion are found in the
invisibleness of its objects ; in the dis-
proportion between the Infinite Creator and
the finite mind ; in the proneness of human
beings to judge of superior natures by their
own, and to transfer to the spiritual world the
properties of matter and the affections of
sense ; in the perpetual pressure of outward
things upon the attention ; in the darkness
which sin spreads over the intellect ; in the
igBorance which yet prevails in regard to the
human mind ; and, though last not least, in
the errors and superstitions which have come
down to us from past ages, and which exert
an unsuspected power on our whole modes
of religious thinking. These obstacles are
strengSiened by the general indisposition to
investigate religion freely and thoroughly.
The tone of authority with which it has been
taught, the terror and obscure phraseology in
which it has been shrouded, and the unlovely
aq)eel which it has been made to wear, have
concurred to repel from it deliberate and
earnest attention, and to reconcile men to a
superficial nnode of thinking, which they would
scorn on every other subject. Add to this,
that the early inculcation and frequent repeti-
tion of religion, by making it familiar, expose
it to n^lect. The result of all these un-
favourable influences is, that religious truth
is more indistinctly apprehended, is more
shadowy and unreal to the multitude, than
any other truth ; and, unhappily, this remark
applies with almost equal truth to all ranks of
society and all orders of intellect. The loose
oonoeptiona of Christianity which prevail
among the high as well as the low, do not
deserve the namoof knowledge. The loftiest
iQinds among us seldom put forth their
strength on the very subject for which intel-
ligence was especially given. A great revo-
hiCion is needed here. The human intellect
is to be brought to act on religion with new
power. It ought to prosecute this inquiry
with an intenaeness with which no other sub-
ject IS investigated. And does it require no
energy in the teacher to awaken this power
and eameatness of thought in others, to bring
religion before the intellect as its worthiest
c^ject, to raise men's traditional, lifeless,
superficial foith into deliberate, profound
conviction ?

That the ministry should be characterized
by power and energy will be made more
apparent, if we consider that it is instituted
to quicken not only the intellect but the con-
science ; to enforce the obligations as well as
illustrate the truth of religion. It is an im-
portant branch of the minister's duty to bring
home the guieral principles of duty to the
individual mind; to turn it upon itself; to
rouse it to a resolute, impartial survey of its
whole responsibilities and ill deserts. And is

not energy needed lo break through the
barriers of pride and self-love, and to place
the individual before a tribunal in his own
breast, as solemn and searching as that which
awaits him at the last day? It is not indeed
so difficult to rouse in the timid and suscep-
tible a morbid susceptibility of conscience, to
terrify weak people into the idea that they
are to answer for sins inherited from the first
fallen pair, and entailed upon them by a stem
necessity. But this feverish action of the
conscience is its weakness, not its strength ;
and the teacher who woukl rouse the moral
sense to discriminating judgment and health-
ful feeling, has need of a vastly higher kind of
power than is required to darken and disease it.
Another proof that the ministry should be
characterized by power, is given to us by the
consideration that it is intended to act on the
affections; to exhibit religion in iu loveli-
ness and venerableness, as well as in its truth
and obligation ; to concentrate upon it all
the strength of moral feeling. The Christian
teacher has a great work to do in the human
heart. His function has for its highest aim
to call forth towards God the profoundest
awe, attachment, trust, and joy. of which
human nature is capable. Religion demands
that He who is supreme in the universe should
be supreme in the human soul. God. to
whom belongs the m3r5terious and incom-
municable attribute of Infinity: who is the
ftilness and source of life and thought, of
beauty and power, of love and happiness ;
on whom we depend more intimately than
the stream on the fountain, or the pknt on
the earth in which it is rooted,— this Great
Being ought to call forth peculiar emotions,
and to move and sway the soul, as He per-
vades creation, with unrivalled energy. It is
his distinction, that He imites in his nature
infinite majesty and infinite benignity, the
most awful with the most endearing attributes,
the tenderest relations to the individual with
the grandeur of the universal sovereign ; and
through this nature He is fitted to act on the
mind as no other being can, — to awaken a
love more intense, a veneration more pro-
found, a sensibiUty of which the soul knows
not its capacity until it is penetrated and
touched by God. To bring the created mind
into living union with the Infinite Mind, so
that it shall respond to Him through its whole
being, as the noblest frmction which this
harmonious and beneficent universe performs.
For this revelation was given. For this
the ministry was instituted. The Christian
teacher is to "make mora audible, and to in-
terpret, the voice in which the beauty and
awfuluess of nature, the heavens, the earth,
fruitful seasons, storms and thunders, recall
men to their Creator. Still more, he is to
tiun them to the clearer, mikler, more at-

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tractive splendours in which the Divinity is
revealed by Jesus Christ. His great purpose,
I repeat it» is to give vitality to the thought
of God in the human mind ; to make his
presence felt; to make Him a reality, and
the most powerful reality to the soul. And
is not this a work requiring energy of thought
and utterance? Is it easy, in a world of
matter and sense, amidst crowds of impressions
rushing in from abroad, amidst the constant
and visible agency of second causes, amidst
the anxieties, toils, pleasures, dissipations, and
competitions of life, in the stir and bustle of
society, and in an age when luxury wars with
spirituality, and the development of nature's
resources is turning men's trust from the
Creator, — is it easy, amidst these gross in-
terests and dbtracting influences, to raise
men's minds to the invisible Divinity, to fix
impressions of God deeper and more endur-
ing than those which are received from all
otner beings, to make Him the supreme
object, spring, and motive of the soul ?

We have seen how deep and strong are
the affections which the minister is to awaken
towards God. But strength of religious im-
pression is not his whole work. From the
imperfections of our nature this very strength
has its dangers. Religion, in becoming fer-
vent, often becomes morbid. It is the minis-
ter's duty to inculcate a piety characterized by
wisdom as much as by warmth ; to meditate,
if I may so speak, between the reason and
the affections, so that, with joint energy and
in bkssed harmony, they may rise together
and offer up the undivided soul to God.
Whoever understands the strength of emo-
tion in man's nature, and how hardly the
balance of the soul is preserved, need not be
told of the arduousness of this work. De-
vout people, through love of excitement, and
through wrong views of the love of God, are
apt to cherish the devotional feelings at the
expense, if not to the exclusion, of other
parts of our nature. They seem to imagine
tliat piety, Uke the Upas tree, makes a desert
where it grows ; that the mind, if not the
body, needs a cloister. The natural move-
ments of the soul are repressed ; the social
affections damped ; the grace, and ornament,
and innocent exhilarations of life Crowned
upon; and a gloomy, repulsive religion is
cultivated, which, by way of compensation
for its privations, claims a monopoly of God's
favour, abandoning all to his wrath who will
not assume its own sad livery and echo its
own sepulchral tones. Through such exhi-
bitions religion has lost its honour; and
though the most ennobling of all sentiments,
dilating the soul with vast thoughts and an
unbounded hope, has been thought to contract
and degrade it. The minister is to teach
an earnest but enlight^ed religion ; ^ pi^y

which, far fix>m wasting or eradicating, will
protect, nourish, freshen the mind's N'arious
affections and powers ; which will add force
to reason, as well as ardour to the heart;
which will at once bind us to God. and
cement and multiply our ties to our families,
otu* country, and mankind; which will
heighten the relish of life's pleasures, whilst
it kindles an unquenchable thirst for a purer
happiness in the life to come. Religion does
not mutilate our nature. It does not lay waste
our human interests and affections, that it
may erect for God a throne amidst cheerless
and solitary ruins, but widens the range of
thought, feeling, and enjoyment. Such is
religion; and the Christian ministry — having
for its end the communication of this health-
ful, well-proportioned, and all-comprehend-
ing piety — demands every energy of thought,
feeling, and utterance which the individual
can bring to the work.

The time would fail me to speak of the
other affections and sentiments which the
ministry is instituted to excite and cherish,
and I hasten to another object of the Christian
teacher, which, to those who know themselves,
will peculiarly illustrate the power which his
office demands. It is his duty to rouse men
to self-conflict, to warfare with the evil in
their own hearts. This is in truth the su-
preme evil. The sorest calamities of life —
sickness, poverty, scorn, dungeons, and
death —form a less amount of desolation and
suffering than is included in that one word,
sin,— in revolt from God, in disloyalty to
conscience, in the tyraimy of the passions, in
the thraldom of the soul's noblest powers.
To redeem men from sin was Christ's ^reat
end. To pierce them with a new consaous-
ness of sin, so that they shall groan under it
and strive against it, and through prayer and
watching master it, is an essential part of the
minister^ work. Let him not satisfy himself
with awakening by his eloquence occasional
emotions of gratitude or sympathy. He
must rouse the soul to solemn, stem resolve
against its own deep and cherished corrup-
tions, or he only makes a show of assault,
and leaves the foe intrenched and unbroken
within. We see, then, the arduousness of
the minister's work. He is called to war
with the might of the human passions, with
the whole power of moral evil. He is to
enlist men. not for a crusade, nor for exter-
mination of heretics, but to fight a harder
battle within, to expel sin in all its forms,
and especially their besetting sins, from the
strongholds of the heart. I Know no task so
arduous, none which demands equal power.

I shall take but one more view of the
objects for which the Christian ministry was
instituted, and from which we infer that it
should be fr;»ught with energy. It is the

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dntj of the Christian teacher to call forth fai
the soul a conviclion of its immortality, a
thirst for a higher existence, and a grandeur
and elevation of sentiment becoming a being
who is to live, enjoy, and advance for ever.
His business is with men, not as inhabitants
of this world, but as related to invisible
beings and to pmrer and happier worlds. The
minister shoukt look with reverence on the
human soul, as having within itself the germ
of heaven. He should recognize, in the
ignorant and unimproved, vast spiritual facul-
nes given for perpetual enlaigement, just as
the artist of genius sees in the unhewn
marble the capacity of being transformed
into a majesty and g^race which will command
the admiration of ages. In correspondence
with these views, let him strive to quicken
men to a consciousness of their inward nature
and of its affinity with God, and to raise their
steadfast aim and hope to its interminable
progress and felicity. Such is his function,
rerhaps I may be told that men are incapable
of rising, under the best instruction, to this
height of thought and feeling. But let us
never despair of our race. There is, I am
sure, in the human soul a deep consciousness,
which responds to him who sincerely, and
with the language of reality, speaks to it of
the great and everlasting purposes for which
it ^-as created. There are sublime instincts
in man. There is in hiunan nature a want
which the world cannot supply; a thirst for
objects on which to pour forth more fervent
admiration and love than visible things
awaken ; a thirst for the unseen, the infinite,
and the everhisting. Most of you who hear
have probably had moments when a new
light has seemed to dawn, a new life to stir
within you ; when yon have aspired after an
unknown good ; when you have been touched
by moral greatness and disinterested love;
when you liave longed to break every chain
of selfishness and sensuality, and enjoy a
purer being. It is on this part of our nature
thsit religion is founded. To this Christianity
is addressed. The power to speak to this
is the noblest which God has imparted to
man or angel, and should be coveted above
all things by the Christian teacher.

The need of power in the ministry has
been made apparent, from the greatness of
the truths to be dispensed and the effects to
be wrought by the Christian teacher. The
question then comes, How may the student
of theology be aided in gaining or cherishing
this power? Under what influences should he
be placed ? What are the springs or founda-
tions of the energy which he needs ? How
may he be quickened and trained to act most
efficiently on the minds of men ? In answer-
ing these questions we of course determine
the character which belongs to a theological

histitution, the spirit which it should cherish,
the discipline, the mode of teaching, the
excitements, which it should employ. From
this wide range I shall select a few topics
which are recommended at once by their own
importance and by the circiunstanoes in which
we are now placed.

1. To tram the student to power of thought
and utterance, let him be left, and, still more,
encouraged, to free investigation. Without
this a theological institution becomes a prison
to the intellect and a nuisance to the church.
The mind grows by free action. Confine it
to beaten paths, prescribe to it the results in
which all study must end, and you rob it of
elasticity and life. It will never spread to its
full dimensions. Teach the yotmg man that
the instructions of others are designed to.
quicken, not supersede his own activity; that
he has a divine intellect for which he is to
answer to God, and that to surrender it to
another, is to cast the crown from his head,
and to yield up his noblest birthright. En-
courage him in all great questions to hear both
sides, and to meet fairly the point of every
hostile argument. Guard him against tam-
pering with his own mind, against silencing
its whispers and objections, that he may
enjoy a favourite opinion undistiubed. Do
not give him the shadow for the substance of
freedom, by telling him to inquire, but pre-
scribing to him the convictions at which he
must stop. Better show him honestly his
chains than mock the slave with the show of

I know the objection to this course. It
puts to hazard, we are told, the religious
principles of the yotmg. The objection is
not without foundation. The danger is not
unreal. But I know no method of forming a
manly intellect or a manly character without
danger. Peril is the element in which power
is developed. Remove the youth from every
hazard, keep him in leading-strings lest he
should stray into forbidden paths, surround

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 38 of 169)