William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 68 of 169)
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peculiar acts, feelings, and relations must be given what I understand to be the leading

ascribed to each. In other words, the glory features of Trinitarianism all the world over;

of all mtist be shorn, that some special dis- and the benevolent professors of that faith

tingiiishing lustre ma^r be thrown on each, who recoil from this statement roust blame

Accordingly, creation is associated peculiarly not the preacher, but the creeds and estab-

with the conception of the Father; satisfaction lishments by which these doctrines are dif-

for human guilt with that of the Son ; whilst fused. For ourselves, we look with horror

sanctification, the noblest work of all, is given and grief on the views of God's govemmeot

to the Holy Spirit as his more particular which are naturally and intimately united

work. By a still more fatal distribution, the with Trinitarianism. They take firom us oor

work of justice, the office of vindicating the Father in heaven, and substitute a stern and

rights of the Divinity, falls peculiarly to the unjust lord. Our filial love and reveren«

Father, whilst the loveliness of interposing rise up against them. We say to the Trini-

mercy clothes peculiarly the person of the tarian, touch anything but the perfections of

Son. By this imhappy influence of Trini- God. Cast no stain on that spotless puiitT

tarianism, from which common minds at least and loveUness. We can endure any erron

cannot escape, the splendours of the Godhead, but those which subvert or unsettle the coD'

being scattered among three objects, instead viction of God's paternal goodness. Urge

of being united in One Infinite Father, are not upon us a system which makes existence
dimmed ; and he whose mind is thoroughly a curse, and wraps the universe in gloon.

and practically possessed by this system, can L«ive us the cheerful light, the free «»j
hardly conceive the effulgence of glory in healthful atmorohere of a liberal and mtk)iw
which the One God offers Himself to a pious faith; the ennobhng and consoling influences

believer in his strict unity. of the doctrine, which nature and rcvelatioj

But the worst has not been told. I observe, in blessed concord teach lis, of One Father o*

then, in the third place, that if Three Divine unbounded and inexhaustible love.

Persons are believed in, such an administra- V. Unitarianism is peculiarly favourable to

^ott or government of the worid must be piety, because it accords with nature, witli

ribed to them as will fiimish them with a the world around and the world within t» '»



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MOST FAVOURABLE TO PIETY, 313

and diroilgh this accordance it gives aid to with nature, it leads us to seek Him in nature
naturoi and receives aid from it, in impress* It does not shut us up in the written word,
XQR the mind with God. We live in the precious as that manifestation of the Divinity
mjdst ctf a glorious universe, which was meant is. It considers revelation, not as indepen-
to be a witness and a preacher of the Divinity; dent of his other means of instruction ; not as
and a revelation from God may be expected a separate agent ; but as a part of the great
to be in harmony with this system, and to svstem of God for enli^^htening and elevating
carry on a common ministry with it in lifting tne human soul ; as intimately joined with
the seal to God. Now, Unitarianism is in ac- creation and providence, and intended to con-
cordance with nature. It teaches One Father, cur with them; and as given to assist us in
and 90 does creation, the more it is explored, reading the volume of the universe. Thus
Philosophy, in proportion as it extends its Unitarianism, where its genuine influence is
\iews of the universe, sees in it, more and experienced, tends to enrich and fertilize XYa
more, a sublime and beautiful unity, and mul- mind ; opens it to new hghts, wherever they
tiplies proofs that all things have sprung from spring up ; and. by combining, makes more
one intelligence, one power, one love. The efficient the means of religious knowledge,
whole outward creation proclaims to the Uni- Trinitarianism, on the other hand, is a svstem
tarian the truth in which he delights. So which tends to confine the mind ; to shut it
does his own soul. But neither nature nor up in what is written ; to diminish its interest
the soul bears one trace of Three Divine Per- in the universe ; and to disincline it to bright
sons. Nature is no Trinitarian. It gives not and enlarged views of God's works. — ^This
a hint, not a glimpse of a tri-personal author. e£fect will be explained, in the first place, if
Trinitarianism is a confined system, shut up we consider that the peculiarities of Trinita-
in a few texts, a few written lines, where many rianism differ so much from the teachings of
of the wisest minds have failed to discover it. the universe, that he who attaches himself
It is not inscribed on the heavens and the to the one will be in danger of losing his
earth, not borne on every wind, not resound- interest in the other. The ideas of Three
ing and re-echoing through the universe. The Divine Persons, of God clothing Himself in
sun and stars say nothing of a God of three flesh, of the infinite Creator saving the guilty
persons. They all speak of the One Father by transferring their punishment to an inno-
whom we adore. To cur ears, one and the cent being, these ideas cannot easily be
same vokse comes firom God's word and works, made to coalesce in the mind with that which
a fbU and swelling strain, growing clearer, nature gives, of One Almighty Father and
louder, more thrilling as we listen, and with Unbounded Spirit, whom no worlds can
one Messed influence lifting up our souls to contain, and whose vicegerent in the human
the Almighty Father. breast pronounces it a crime to kiy the

This accordance between nature and reve- penalties of vice on the pure and unoffending.
latioQ increases the power of both over the But Trinitarianism has a still more positive
nrind. Concurring as they do in one impres- influence in shutting the mind against im-
sion, they make tl^t impression deeper. To proving views from the universe. It tends to
men of reflection, the conviction of the reality throw gloom over God's works. Imagining
of rdigion is exceedingly heightened by a that Christ is to be exalted by giving him an
perception of harmony in the views of it which excltisive agency in enlightening and recover-
ibey derive from various sources. Revelation ing mankind, it is tempted to disparage other
is never received with so intimate a persuasion lights and influences ; and, for the purpose
of its truth as when it is seen to conspire to of magnifying his salvation, it inclines to
the same ends and impressions for which all exaggerate the darkness and desperateness of
other things are made. It is no small objec- man's present condition. The mind, thus
tlon to Trinitarianism that it is an insulated impressed, naturally leans to those views of
docnloe, that it reveals a God whom we meet nature and of society which will strengthen
nowfaeie in the universe. Three Divine Per- the ideas of desolation and guilt. It is
somt, I rq>eat it, are found only in a few texts, tempted to aggravate the miseries of life,
and those so dark that the gifted minds of and to see in them only the marks of divine
MUtoo, Newton, and Locke could not find displeasu||and punishing justice; and over-
tbeni there. Nature gives them not a whisper looks thm obvious fitness and design to
of eHdoice. And can they be as real and awaken our powers, exercise our virtues, and
pdvflfful to the mind as that One Father whom strengthen our social ties. In hke manner
the gcsienl strain and common voice of Scrip- it exaggerates the sins of men, that the need
cme, and the universal voice of nattue, call us of an infinite atonement may be maintaii\ed.
to adore? Some of the most affecting tokens of God's

TI. Unitarianism favours piety by opening love within and around us are obscured by
Cbe stfnd to new and ever^nlarging views of this gloomv theology. The glorious faculties
GoA* Teaching, M it do^, the same Qod of the soul, its high aspirations, its sensibility



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314 UNITARIAN CHRISTIANITY

to the great and good in character, its S)rm- should want vitality and enlargen>^t of
pathy with disinterested and suffering virtue, thought, for it does not accord with the
its benevolent and religious instincts, its thirst perfections of God and the spirit of the
for a happiness not found on earth, these are universe. It has not its root in eternal truth,
overlooked or thrown into the shade, that but is a narrow, technical, artificial system,
they may not disturb the persuasion of man's the fabrication of unrefined ages, and coose-
natural corruption. Ingenuity is employed quently incapable of being blended with the
to disparage what is interesting in the human new lights which are spreading over the most
character. Whilst the bursts of passion in interesting subjects, and of bein^ incorpo-
thc new-bom child arc gravely urged as in- rated with the results and antiapations of
dications of a native rooted corruption, its original and progressive minds. It stands
bursts of affection, its sweet smile, its inno- apart in the mind, instead of selling upon
cent and irrepressible joy, its loveliness and new truths, and converting them into its own
beauty, are not listened to, though they plead nutriment. With few exceptions, the Trini-
more eloquently its alliance with higher tarian theology of the present day is greatly
natures. The sacred and tender affections deficient in freshness of thought, and in power
of home ; the unwearied watchings and to awaken the interest and to meet the intel-
cheerful sacrifices of parents ; the reverential, lectual and spiritual wants of thinking nueo.
grateful assiduity of children, smoothing an I see indeed superior minds, and great minds,
aged father's or mother's descent to the among the adherents of the prevalent sys*
grave ; woman's love, stronger than death ; tem ; out they seem to me to move in chains,
the friendship of brothers and sisters; the and to fulfil poorly their high fimction of
anxious affection, which tends arotmd the adding to the wealth of the human intellect,
bed of sickness ; the subdued voice, which In theological discussion, they remind me
breathes comfort into the mourner's heart; more of Samson grinding in the narrow mill
all the endearing offices, which shed a serene of the Philistines, than of that undaunted
light through our dwellings; these are ex- champion achieving victories for God's people,
plained away by the thorough advocates of and enlarging the bounds of their inheritance,
this system, so as to include no real virtue, so Now, a system which has a tendency to coo-
as to consist with a natural aversion to good- fine the mind and to impair its sensibility to
ness. Even the higher efforts of disinterested the manifestations of God in the universe, is
benevolence, and the most unaffected ex- so far unfriendly to piety, to a bright, joyous^
pressions of piety, if not connected with what hopeful, ever-growing love of the Croator.
IS called "the true faith," are, by the most It tends to generate and nourish a religicm
rigid disciples of the doctrine which I oppose, of a melancholy tone, such, I apprebeod, as
resolved into the passion for distinction, or now predominates in the Christian world,
some other working of "unsanctified nature." VII. Unitarianism promotes piety, by the
Thus, Trinitarianism and its kindred doc- high place which it assigns to piety in the
trines have a tendency to veil God's goodness, character and work of Jesus Christ. What
to sully his forest works, to dim the lustre of is it which the Unitarian regards as the chief
those mnocent and pure affections which a glory of the character of Christ? I answer.
divine breath kindles in the soul, to blight his filial devotion, the entireness with which
the beauty and freshness of creation, and in he surrendered himself to the will and beoe-
this way to consume the very nutriment of volent purposes of God. The piety of Jesus.
piety. We know, and rejoice to know, that which, on the supposition of his Sopccffie
m multitudes this tendency is counteracted by Divinity, is a subordinate and Lncoi^gruowi,
a cheerful temperament, a benevolent nature, is, to us, his promment and crowning attri-
and a strength of gratitude which bursts the bute. We place his " oneness with G^d."
shackles of a melancholy system. But, from not in an iminteUigible unity of essence, but
the nature of the doctrine, the tendency exists, in unity of mind and heart, in the streogtli of
and is strong ; and an impartial observer will his love, through which he renounced cstTf
often discern it resulting m gloomy, depress- separate interest, and identified himself win
ing views of life and the universe. his Father s designs. In other wards». ttat

Trinitarianism. by thus tendin^k) exclude piety, the consecration of his whole betx^ lo
brightandenlarged views of the creation, seems the benevolent will of his Father, this i% tbe
to me not only to chill the heart, but to injure mild glory in which he always ofieis himti^
the understanding, as far as moral and reli- to our minds; and, of consequence, att oox
gious truth is concerned. It does not send sympathies mih him, all our love and vcMtm-
the mind far and wide for new and elevating tion towards him, are so many forms of deijgbr
objects ; and we have here one explanation of in a pious character, and our wbolt ^Offtt-
the barrenness and feebleness by which theo- ledge of him incites us to a like ~nrmirtnr of
logical writmgs are so generally marked. It our whole nature and existence to GoiL
Is not wonderful that the prevalent theology In the next place, Unitariaoisnii



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MOST FAyOURABLE TO PIETY.



315



that tbe highest work or office of Christ is to
call forth and strengthen piety in the human
breast ; and thus it sets before us this cha-
racter as the chief acquisition and end of oiu*
being. To us, the great glory of Christ's
mission consists in the power with which he
•• reveals the Father," and establishes the
" kingdom or reign of God within" the soul.
By the crown which he wears, we understand
the eminence which he enjoys in the most
beneficent work in the universe, that of bring-
ing back the lost mind to the knowledge*
love, and likeness of its Creator. With these
views of Christ's office, nothing can seem to
OS so important as an enlightened and pro-
found piety, and we are quickened to seek
it as the perfection and happiness to which
nature and redemption jointly summon us.

Now, we msdntain that Trinitariamsm ob-
scures and weakens these views of Christ's
character and work ; and this it does by in-
sisting" perpetually on others of an incon-
gruous, discordant nature. It diminishes the
power of his piety. Making him, as it does,
the Supreme Beinsf, and pkcing him as an
equal on his Father s throne, it turns the mind
from him as the meekest worshipper of God ;
throws into the shade, as of very inferior
worth, his self-denying obedience ; and gives
us other grounds for revering him than his
entire homage, his fervent love, his cheerful
sdf-sacrifice to the Universal Parent. There
is a plain incongruity in the belief of his
Supreme Godhead with the ideas of filial
piety and exemplary devotion. The mind,
which has been taught to regard him as of
equal majesty and authority with the Father,
cannot easily feel the power of his character
as the affectionate son, whose meat it was to
do his Father's will. The mind, accustomed
to make him the ultimate object of worship,
cannot easily recognize in him the pattern of
that worship, the guide to the Most High.
The characters are incongruous, and their
union perplexing, so that neither exerts its
full energy on the mind.

Trinitarianism also exhibits the work as
weU as character of Christ in hghts less
fiivoocable to piety. It does not make the
promotion of piety his chief end. It teaches
that the highest purpose of his mission was
to reconcile God to man, not man to God.
It teaches that the most formidable obstacle
to himian happiness lies in the claims and
thneatenings of divine justice. Hence it
leads men to prize Christ more for answering
these claims, and averting these threatenings,
than for awakening in the human soul send-
ments of love towards its Father in heaven.
Accordingly, multitudes seem to prize pardon
more than piety, and think it a greater boon
to escape, through Christ's sufferings, the fire
of bell, than to receive, through his influence,



the spirit of heaven, the ^hit of devotion.
Is such a system propitious to a generous and
ever-growing piety?

If I may be allowed a short digression, I
would conclude this head with the geaeral
observation, that we deem our views of Jesus
Christ more interesting than those of 'Trini-
tarianism. We feel that we should lose much,
by exchanging the distinct character and mild
radiance with which he offers himself to our
minds, for the confused and irreconcilable
glories with which that system labours to in-
vest him. According to Unitarianisra, he is
a being who may 1^ understood, for he is
one mind, one conscious nature. According
to the opposite faith, he is an inconceivable
compound of two most dissimilar minds,
joining in one person a finite and infinite
nature, a soul w&ik and ignorant, and a soul
almighty and omniscient. And is such a
being a proper object for human thought
and affection? — I add, as another important
consideration, that to us Jesus, instead of
being the second of three obscure unintel-
hgible persons, is first and pre-eminent in
the sphere in which he acts, and is thus the
object of a distinct attachment, which he
shares with no equals or rivals. To us, he is
first of the sons of God, the Son by peculiar
nearness and likeness to the Father. He is
first of all the ministers of God's mercy and
beneficence, and through him the largest
stream of bounty flows to the creation. He
is first in God's favour and love, the most
accepted of worshippers, the most prevalent
of intercessors. In this mighty universe,
framed to be a mirror of its Author, we turn
to Jesus as the brightest image of God, and
gratefully yield him a place in our souls,
second only to the Infimte Father, to whom
he himself directs our supreme affection.

VIII. I now proceed to a great topic.
Unitarianism promotes piety by meeting the
wants of man as a sinner. The wants of the
sinner may be expressed almost in one word.
He wants assurances of mercy in his Creator.
He wants pledges that God is Love in its
purest form, that is, that He has a goodness
so disinterested, free, full, strong, and immu-
table, that the ingratitude and disobedience of
his creatures cannot overcome it. This un^
conquerable love, which in Scripture is deno-
minated grace, and which waits not for merit
to call it forth, but flows out to the most
guilty, is the sinners only hope, and it is
fitted to call forth the most devoted grati-
tude. Now, this grace or mercy of God,
which seeks the lost, and receives and blesses
the returning child, is proclaimed by that
faith which we advocate with a clearness and
energy which cannot be surpassed. Unita-
rianism will not listen for a moment to the
common errors by which this bright attribute



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3i6



UNITARIAN CHRISTIANITY



is obsctired. It will not hear of a vindictive
wrath in God which must be quenched by
blood, or of a justice which binds his mercy
witli an iron chain until its demands are satis-
fied to the full. It will not hear that God
needs any foreign influence to awaken his
mercy, but teaches that the yearnings of the
tenderest human parent towards a lost child
are but a faint image of God's deep and over-
flowing compassion towards erring man. This
essential and unchangeable propensity of the
Divine Mind to forgiveness, the Unitarian be-
holds shining forth through the whole Word
of God, and especially in the mission and re-
velation of Jesus Christ, who lived and died
to make manifest the inexhaustible plenitude
of divine grace; and, aided by revelation, he
sees this attribute of God everywhere, both
around him and within him. He sees it in
the sun which shines, and the rain which
descends on the evil and unthankful ; in the
peace which returns to the mind in propor-
tion to its return to God and duty ; in the
sentiment of compassion which springs up
spontaneously in the human breast towarcU
the fallen and lost ; and in the moral instinct
which teaches us to cherish this compassion
as a sacred principle, as an emanation of
God's infinite love. In truth, Unitarianism
asserts so strongly the mercy of God, that
the reproach thrown upon it is that it takes
from the sinner the dread of punishment, —
a reproach wholly without foundation; for
our system teaches that God's mercy is not
an instinctive tenderness, which cannot in-
flict pain; but an all-wise love, which de-
sires the true and lasting good of its object,
and consequently desires nrst for the sinner
that restoration to purity without which shame,
and suffering, and exile from God and heaven
are of necessity and unalterably his doom.
Thus Unitarianism holds forth God's grace
and forgiving goodness most resplendently ;
and, by this manifestation of Him, it tends
to awaken a tender and confiding piety;
an ingenuous love, which mourns that it has
oflended; an ingenuous aversion to sin, not
because sin brings punishment, but because
it separates the mind from this merciful Father.
Now we object to Trinitarianism, that it
obscures the mercy of God. It does so in
various ways. We have already seen that it
gives such views of God's government, that
we can hardly conceive of this attribute as
entering into his character. Mercy to the
sinner is the principle of love or benevolence
in its highest form ; and surely this cannot be
expected from a being who brings tis into
existence burdened with hereditary guilt, and
"ho threatens with endless punishment and
' the heirs of so frail and feeble a nature.
\ such a Creator the idea of mercy cannot
ice{ and I will say more, that under



such a government man would need no znercy ;
for he would owe no allegiance to such a
Maker, and could not. of course, contract the
guilt of violating it; and, without guilt, no
grace or pardon would be wanted. The
severity of this system would place him on
the ground of an injured being. The wrong
would lie on the side of the Creator.

In the next place, Trinitarianism obscures
God's mercy by the manner in which it sop-
poses pardon to be communicated. It teaches
that God remits the punishment of the offen-
der in consequence of receiving an equivalent
from an innocent person ; that the sufferings
of the sinner are removed by a full satisfaction
made to divine justice in the sufferings of a
substitute. And is this "the qu^ity of
mercy?" What means forgiveness, but the
reception of the returning child through the
strength of parental love? This doctrine in-
vests the Saviour with a claim of merit, with
a right to the remission of the sins of \s&
followers; and represents God's reception of
the penitent as a recompense due to the woith
of his Son. And is mercy, which means free
and undeserved love, made more manifest,
more resplendent, by the introduction of
merit and right as the ground of our salva-
tion? Could a surer expedient be invented
for obscuring its freeness. and for turning the
sinner's gratitude from the sovereign who
demands, to the sufferer who ofiets, fiHl satis-
faction for his guilt ?

I know it is said that Trinitarianism mag-
nifies God's mercy, because it teaches that
He Himself provided the substitute for the
guilty. But I reply, that the work here
ascribed to mercy is not the most appropriate,
nor most fitted to manifest it and impress it
on the heart. This may be made apparent by
famihar illustrations. Suppose that a creditor,
through compassion to certain debtors, should
pefsuade a benevolent and opulent man to
pay him in their stead. Would not the
debtors see a greater mercy, and feel a
weightier obligation, if they were to recd«
a free, gratuitous release ? And will not their
chief gratitude stray beyond the creditor lo
the benevolent substitute? Or. suppose that
a parent, unwilling to inflict a penalty on *
disobedient but feeble child, should persuade
a stronger child to bear it. Would not the
offender see a more touching mercy in a free
forgiveness, springing immediately frott a



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 68 of 169)