William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 53 of 169)
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nature purified and enlarged to infinity. In
ourselves are the elements of the Divinity.
God. then, does not sustain a figurative re-
semblance to man. It is the resemblance of
a parent to a child, the likeness of a kindred
nature.

We call God a Mind. He has revealed
Himself as a Spirit. But what do we know
of mind but through the imfolding of this
principle in our own breasts? That im-
bounded spiritual energy which we call God
is conceived by us only through conscious-
ness, through the knowledge of ourselves. —
We ascribe thought or intelligence to the
Deity, as one of the most glorious attributes.
And what means this language? These
terms we have framed to express operations or
faculties of our own souls. Fhe Infinite Light
would be for ever hidden from us did not
kindred rays dawn and brighten within us.
God is another name for human intelligence
raised above all error and imperfection, and
extended to all possible truth.

The same is true of God's goodness. How
do we understand this but by the principle of
love implanted in the human breast ? Whence
is it that this divine attribute is so faintly
comprehended, but from the feeble develop-
ment of it in the multitude of men? Who
can understand the strength, purity, fulness,
and extent of divine philanthropy, but he
in whom selfishness has been swallowed up
in love?

• The same is true of all the moral perfec-
tions of the Deity. These are comprehended
by us only through our own moral nature.
It is conscience within us which, by its
approving and condemning voice, interprets
to us God's love of virtue and hatred of sin ;
and without conscience, these glorious con-
ceptions would never have opened on the
mind.-r It is the lawgiver in our own breasts
which gives us the idea of divine authority,
and binds us to obey it. The soul, by its
sense of right, or its perception of moral
distinctions, b clothed with sovereignty over
itself, and throiigh this alone it understands
and recognizes the Sovereign of the Universe.
Men, as by a natural inspiration, have agreed
to speak of conscience as the voice of God,
as the Divinity within us. This principle,
reverently obeyed, makes us more and more
partakers of the moral perfection of the
Supreme Being, of that veiy excellence which
constitutes the rightfulness of his sceptre,
and enthrones Him over the universe. With-
out this inward law we should be as incapable
of receiving a law from Heaven as the bmte.
Without this the thunders of Sinai might
startle the outward ear, but would have no



meaning, no authority to the mind. I hare
expressed here a great truth. Nothing teaches
so encouragingly our relation and resemblance
to God : for tne glory of the Supreme Being
is eminently moral. We blind ourselves to
his chief splendour if we think dhly or mainly
of his power, and overlook those attributes of
rectitude and goodness to which He subjects
his omnipotence, and which are the founda-
tions and very substance of his universal and
immutable Law. And are these attributes
revealed to us through the principles and con-
victions of our own souls? Do we under-
stand through sympathy God's perception of
the right, the good, the holy, the just ? Then
with what propriety is it said that in his own
image He made man !

I am aware that it maybe objected to these
views, that we receive our idea of God from
the universe, from his works, and not so ex-
clusively from our own souls. The universe,
I know, is full of God. The heavens and
earth declare his glory. In other words, the
effects and signs of power, wisdom, and good-
ness, are apparent through the whole creation.
But apparent to what ? Not to the outward
eye, not to the acutest organs of sense, but
to a kindred mind, which interprets the uni-
verse by itself. It is only through that energy
of thought by which we adapt various and
complicated means to distant ends, and give
harmony and a common bearing to multiplied
exertions, that we imderstand the creative in-
telligence which has established the order,
dependencies, and harmony of nature. Wc
see God around us because He dwelk within
us. It is by a kindred wisdom that we dis-
cern his wisdom in his works. The brute,
with an eye as piercing as ours, looks on the
universe ; and the page which to us is radiant
with characters of greatness and goodness is
to him a blank. In truth, the beauty and
glory of God's works are revealed to the mind
by a light beaming from itself. We discern
the impress of God's attributes in the universe
by accordance of nature, and enjoy them
through sympathy. I hardly need observe that
these remarks in relation to the universe apply
with equal if not greater force to revelation.

I shall now be met by another objection,
which to many may seem strong. It will be
said that these various attributes of which I
have spoken exist in God in infinite perfec-
tion, and that this destroys all affinity between
the human and the Divine mind. To this I
have two replies. In the first place, an attri-
bute by becoming perfect does not part with
its essence. Love, wisdom, power, and purity
do not change their nature by enlargement.
If they did, we should lose the Supreme
Being through his very infinity. Our ideas
of Him woukl fade away into mere sounds.
For example, if wisdom in God, because un«



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bounded, have no affinity ^ith that attribute
in man, why apply to Him that term ? It
must signify nothing. Let me ask what we
mean when we say that we discern the marks
of intelligence in the universe? We mean
that we meet there the proofs of a mind like
our own. We certainly discern proofs of no
other ; so that to deny this doctrine would be
to deny the evidences of a God, and utterly
to subvert the foimdations of religious belief.
What man can examine the structure of a plant
or an animal, and see the adaptation of its
parts to each other and to common ends, and*
not feel that it is the work of an intelligence
akin to his own, and that he traces these
marks of design by the same spiritual energy
in which they had their origin ?

But I would offer another answer to this
objection, that , God's infinity places Him
beyond the resemblance and approach of
man. "I affirm, and trust that I do not speak
too strongly, that there are traces of infinity
in the human mind ; and that in this very
respect it bears a likeness to God. ' The very
conception of infinity is the mark of a nature
to which no limit can be prescribed. This
thought, indeed, comes to us not so much
from abroad as from our own souls. We
ascribe this attribute to God, because we
possess capacities and wants which only an
unbounded being can hll, and because we are
conscious of a tendency in spiritual faculties
to unlimited expansion. We believe in the
Divine infinity through something congenial
with it in our own breasts. I hope I speak
clearly, and if not, I would ask those to
whom I am obscure to pause before they
condemn. To me it seems that the soul, in
all its higher actions, in original thought, in
the creations of genius, in the soarings of
imagination, in its love of beauty and gran-
deur, in its aspirations after a pure and un-
known joy, and especially in disinterested-
ness, in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and in
enlightened devotion, has a character of in-
finity. There is often a depth in human love
which may be strictly called unfathomable.
There is sometimes a lofty strength in moral
principle which all the power of the outward
universe cannot overcome. There seems a
might within which can more than balance
all might without. There is, too, a piety
which swells into a transport too vast for
utterance, and into an immeasurable joy. I
am speaking, indeed, of what is uncommon,
but still of realities. We see, however, the
tendency of the soul to the infinite in more
farailar and ordinary forms. Take, for ex-
ample, the delight which we find in the vast
scenes of nature, in prospects which spread
around us without limits, in the immensity of
the heavens and the ocean, and especially in
the rush and roar of miG;hty winds, waves.



and torrents, when, amidst oiur deep awe, a
power within seems to respond to the omni-
potence around us. The same principle is
seen in the delight ministered to us by works
of fiction or of imaginative art, in which our
own nature is set before us in more than
human beauty and power. In truth, the soul
is always bursting its limits. It thirsts con-
tinually for wider knowledge. It rushes for-
ward to untried happiness. It has deep wants
which nothing Umited can appease. Its true
element and end is an unbounded good.
Thus, God's infinity has its image in the
soul ; and through the soul, much more than
through the imiverse, we arrive at this con-
ception of the Deity. •

In these remarks I have spoken strongly.
But I have no fear of expressmg too strongly
the connection between the Divine and the
human mind. My only fear is tliat I shall
dishonour the great subject. The danger to
which we are most exposed is that of severing
the Creator from his creatures. The pro-
pensity of human sovereigns to cut off com-
munication between themselves and their sub-
jects, and to disclaim a common nature witl
their inferiors, has led the multitude o:'
who think of God chiefly imder the ch
of a king, to conceive of Him as a beirlg who
places his glory in multiplying distinctions
between Himself and all other beings. The
truth is that the union between the Creator
and the creature surpasses all other bonds in
strength and intimacy. He penetrates all
things, and delights to irradiate all with his
glory. Nature, in all its lowest and inani-
mate forms, is pervaded by his power ; and
when quickened by the mysterious property
of life, how wonderfully does it show forth
the perfections of its Author I How much
of God may be seen in the structure of a
single leaf, which, though so frail as to
tremble in every wind, yet holds connections
and living communications with the earth,
the air. the clouds, and the distant sun, and,
through these sympathies with the universe,
is itself a revelation of an omnipotent mind !
God delights to diffuse Himself everywhere.
Through his energy unconscious matter
clothes itself with proportions, powers, and
beauties which reflect his wisdom and love.
How much more must He deUght to frame
conscious and happy recipients of his per-
fections, in whom his wisdom and love may
substantially dwell, ^^■ith whom He may form
spiritual ties, and to whom He may be an
everlasting spring of moral energy and hap-
piness I How far the Supreme Being may
communicate his attributes to his intelligent
offspring, I stop not to inquire. But that
his almighty goodness will impart to them
powers and glories of which the material
universe is but a faint emblem, I cannot




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UKF.NESS TO GOD.



doubt. That the soul, if true to itself and
its Maker, will be filled with Ood. and will
manifest Him more than the sun, I cannot
doubt. WTio can doubt it, that believes and
understands the doctrine of human immor-
tality?

The views which I have given in this dis-
course respecting man's participation of the
Divine nature, seem to me to receive strong
confirmation from the title or relation most
frequently applied to God in the New Testa-
ment; and I have reserved this as the last
corroboration of this doctrine, because, to my
own mind, it is sint^ularly affecting. In the
New Testament God is made known to lis as
a Father; and a brighter feature of that
book cannot be named. Our worship is to
be directed to Him as our Father. Our whole
religion is to take its character from this view
of the Divinity. In this He is to rise always
to our minds. And what is it to be a Father?
It is to communicate one's own nature, to
give life to kindred beings ; and the highest
function of a Father is to educate the mind
of the child, and to impart to it what is
noblest and happiest in his own mind. God
is our Father, not merely because He created
iLs, or because He gives us enjoyment ; for He
crfttfed the flower and the insect, yet we call
Him not their Father. This bond is a spiritual
one. This name belongs to God because He
frames spirits like Himself, and delights to
^ve them what is most glorious and blessed
m his own nature. Accordingly, Christianity
is said with sp)ecial propriety to reveal God as
the Father, because it reveals Him as sending
his Son to cleanse the mind from every stain,
and to replenish it forever with the spirit and
moral attributes of its Author. Separate
from God this idea of his creating and train-
ing lip beings after his own likeness, and you
rob Him <rf the paternal character. This
relation vanishes, and with it vanishes the
glory of the Gospel, and the dearest hopes of
the human soul.

The greatest use which I would make of
the principles laid down in this discourse, is
to derive from them just and clear views of
the natiu^ of religion. What, then, is re-
ligion ? I answer, it is not the adoration of
a God with whom we have no common
properties; of a distinct, foreign, separate
being ; but of an all-communicating Parent.
It recognizes and adores God as a being
whom we know through our own souls ; who
has made man in his own image; who is
the periection of our own spiritual nature;
who has symp)athies with us as kindred
beings; who is near us, not in place only
like this all-surrounding atmosphere, but by
spiritual influence and love; who looks on us
with parental interest ; and whose gfreat de-
sign it is to communicate to us for ever, and



in freer and fuller streams, his own power,
goodness, and joy. The conviction of this
near and ennobling relation of God to the
soul, and of his great purposes towards it,
belongs to the very essence of true religion;
and true religion manifests itself chiefly and
most conspicuously in desires, hopes, and
efforts corresponding to this truth. It de-
sires and seeks supremely the assimilation of
the mind to God, or the perpetual unfolding
and enlargement of those powers and virtues
by which it is constituted his glorious image.
The mind, in proportion as it is enlightened
and penetrated by true religion, thirsts and
labours for a godlike elevation. What else,
indeed, can it seek if this good be placed
within its reach? If I am capable of re-
ceiving and reflecting the intellectual and
moral glory of my Creator, what else in
comparison shall I desire ? Shall I deem
a property in the outward universe as the
highest good, when I may become partaker
of the very mind from which it springs, of
the prompting love, the disposing wi^om,
the qiiickenmg power, through which its
order, beauty, and beneficent influences sub-
sist? True religion is known by these high
aspirations, hopes, and efforts. And this is
the religion which most truly honours God.
To honour Him is not to tremble before Him
as an unapproachable sovereign, not to utter
barren praise which leaves us as it found us.
It is to become what we praise. It is to
approach God as an inexhaustible fountain
of light. f)Ower, and purity. It is to feel the
quickening and transforming energy of his
perfections. It is to thirst for the growth
and invigoration of the divine principle
within us. It is to seek the very spirit of
God. It is to trust in, to bless, to thank
Him for that rich grace, mercy, love, which
was revealed and proffered by Jesus Christ,
and which proposes as its great end the per-
fection of the human soul.

I regard this view of religion as infinitely
important. It does more than all things to
make our connection with our Creator enno-
bling and happy; and in proportion as we
want it there is danger that the thought of
God may itself become the instrument of our
degradation. That religion has been so dis-
pensed as to depress the human mind, I need
not tell you ; and it is a truth which ought to
be known, that the greatness of the Deity,
when separated in our thoughts from his
parental character, especially tends to crush
human energy and hope. To a frail, depen-
dent creature, an omnipotent Creator easily
becomes a terror, and his worship easily
degenerates into servility, flattery, self-coa-
tempt, and selfish calculation. Religion only
ennobles us in as far as it reveals to us the
tender and intimate connection of God with



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bis creatures, and teaches us to see in the
verj' greatness which might give alarm, the
source of great and glorious communications
to the human soul. You cannot, my hearers,
think too highly of the majesty of God. But
let not this majesty sever Him from you.
Remember that his greatness is the infinitv of
attributes which yourselves possess. Adore
his infinite v/isdom ; but remember that this
wisdom rejoices to diffuse itself, and let an
exhilarating hope spring up at the thought
of the immeasurable intelligence which such
a Father must commimicate to his children.
In like manner adore his power. Let the
boundless creation fill you with awe and
admiration of the energy which sustains it.
But remember that God has a nobler work
than the outward creation, even the spirit
within yourselves ; and that it is his purpose
to replenish this with his own energy, and to
crown it with growing power and triiunphs
over the material universe. Above all, adore
his unutterable goodness. But remember that
this attribute is particularly proposed to you
as your model; that God calls you, both
by nature and revelation, to a fellowship in
his philanthropy ; that He has placed you in
social relations for the very end of rendering
you ministers and representatives of his bene-
volence; that He even summons you to
espouse and to advance the sublimest pur-
pose of his goodness, the redemption of the
hunum race, by extending the knowledge and
power of Christian truth. It is through such
views that religion raises up the soul, and
binds man by ennobling bonds to his Maker.
To complete my views of this topic, I beg
to add an important caution. I have said
that the great work of religion is to conform
ourselves to God, or to unfold the divine
likeness within us. Let none infer from this
language that I place religion in unnatural
effort, in straining after excitements which do
not belong to the present state, or in any-
thing separate from the clear and simple
duties of life. I exhort you to no extravagance.
I reverence human nature too much to do
it violence. I see too much divinity in its
ordinary opKjrations to urge on it a forced and
vehement virtue. To grow in the likeness of
God we need not cease to be men. This
likeness does not consist in extraordinary or
miraculous gifts, in supernatural additions to
the soul, or in anything foreign to our original
constitution; but in our essential faculties,
unfolded by vigorous and conscientious exer-
tion in the ordinary circumstances assigned by
(iod. To resemble our Creator we need not
fly from society, and entrance ourselves in
lonely contemplation and prayer. Such pro-
cesses might give a feverish strength to one
class of emotions, but would result in dispro-
portion, distortion, and sickliness of mind.



Our proper work is to approach God by the
free and natural unfolding of our highest
powers of understanding, conscience, love,
and the moral will.

Shall I be told that, by such language, I
ascribe to nature the effects which can only be
wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit f I
anticipate this objection, and wish to meet it
by a simple exposition of my views. I would
on no account disparage the gracious aids and
influences which God imparts to the human
soul. The promise of the Holy Spirit is
among the most precious in the Sacred
Volume. Worlds could not tempt me to part
with the doctrine of God's intimate connection
with the mind, and of his free and full com-
munications to it. But these views are in no
respect at variance with what I have taught,
of the method by which we are to grow in the
likeness of God. Scripture and experience
concur in teaching that, by the Holy Spirit,
we are to understand a divine assistance
adapted to our moral freedom, and accordant
with the fundamental truth that virtue is the
mind's own work. By the Holy Spirit, 1
understand an aid which must be gained and
made effectual by our own activity; an aid
which no more interferes with our faculties
than the assistance which we receive from our
fellow-beings ; an aid which silently mingles
and conspires with all other helps and means
of goodness ; an aid by which we unfold our
natural powers in a natural order, and by
which we are strengthened to understand and
apply the resources derived from our munifi-
cent Creator. This aid we cannot prize too
much, or pray for too earnestly. But wherein,
let me ask, does it war with the doctrine that
God is to be approached by the exercise and
unfolding of our highest powers and affec-
tions, in the ordinary circimistances of human
life?

I repeat it, to resemble our Maker we need
not quarrel with our nature or our lot. Our
present state, made up as it is of aids and
trials, is worthy of God, and may be used
throughout to assimilate us to Him. For
example, our domestic ties, the relations of
neighbourhood and country, the daily inter-
changes of thoughts and feelings, the daily
occasions of kindness, the daily claims of want
and suffering, these and the other circum-
stances of our social state, form the best
sphere and school for that benevolence which
is God's brightest attribute ; and we should
make a sad exchange, bv substituting for
these natural aids any self-invented artificial
means of sanctity. Christianity, ourgreatguide
to God, never leads us away from the path
of nature, and never wars wth the unsophis-
ticated dictates of conscience. We approach
our Creator by every right exertion of the
powers He gives us. Whenever we invigorate



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the understanding by honestly and resolutely
seeking truth, and by withstanding whatever
might warp the judgment ; whenever we in-
vigorate the conscience by following it in
opposition to the passions ; whenever we re-
ceive a blessing gratefully, bear a trial pa-
tiently, or encoimter peril or scorn with moral
courage ; whenever we perform a disinterested
deed ; whenever we lift up the heart in true
adoration to God ; whenever we war against
a habit or desire which is strengthening itself
against our higher principles ; whenever we
think, speak, or act, with moral energy and
resolute devotion to duty, be the occasion ever
so humble, obscure, familiar ; then the divinity
is growing within us, and we are ascend-
ing towards our Author. True religion thus
blends itself with common life. We are thus
to draw nigh to God without forsaking men.
We are thus, without parting with ourhiunan
nature, to clothe ourselves with the divine.

My views on the great subject of this dis-
course have now bwn given. I shall close
with a brief consideration of a few objections,
in the course of which I shall offer some
views of the Christian ministry, which this
occasion and the state of the world seem to
me to demand. — I anticipate from some an
objection to this discourse, drawn as they
will say from experience. I may be told that
I have talked of the godlike capacities of
human nature, and have spoken of man as a
divinity ; and where, it will be asked, are the
warrants of this high estimate of our race ?
I may be told that I dream, and that I have
peopled the world with the creatures of my
lonely imagination. What ! Is it only in
dreams that beauty and loveliness have
beamed on me from the human countenance,
that I have heard tones of kindness which
have thrilled through my heart, that I have
found sympathy in suffering, and a sacred
joy in friendship? Are all the great and
good men of past ages only dreams ? Are
such names as Moses, Socrates, Paul, Alfred,
Milton, only the fictions of my disturbed
slumbers ? Are the great deeds of history,
the discoveries of philosophy, the creations
of genius, only visions ? Oh ! no. I do not
dream when I speak of the divine capacities
of human nature. It is a real page in which
I read of patriots and martyrs, of Fe'n^on
and Howard, of Hampden and Washington.
And tell me not that these were prodigies,
miracles, immeasurably separated from their
race ; for the very reverence which has
treasured up and hallowed their memories,
the very sentiments of admiration and love
with which their names are now heard, show



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 53 of 169)