William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 73 of 169)
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clearly manifests what is meant by his being I have thus, my ftiends. set before wu the
our Father. We understand his parent^ true object of Christian worship. Yon art
relation to us only as far as we comprehend here to worship God as your spiritual pfuvn^*
this great purpose and exercise of his love, as the Father of your spWts, whose gi«af
We must have faith in the human soul as purpose is your spiritual perfection, yonr pear-
receptive of the divinity, as made for great- ticipation of a divine nature. 1 noW idtM
ness. Ibr spiritual elevation, for likeness to vIqw of God tobe thetrue,deepfi>andatiDha|
God, of God's character as a Father will be Christian woi^hip. On your recepfloQ of k

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depends the worth of the homage to be offered
here. It is not enough to think of God as
operating around and without you, as creating
material worlds, as the former of your bodies,
as ordaining the revolution of seasons for your
animal wants. There is even danger in regard-
h>g God exclusively as the author of the out-
ward universe. I'here is danger, lest you feel
as if 3rou were overlooked in this immensity,
lest you shrink before these mighty masses of
matter, lest you see in the unchangeable laws
of nature a stem order to whith the human
being is a victim, and which heeds not the
puny individual in maintaining the general
good. It is only by regarding God as more
than Creator, as your spiritual Father, as
having made you to partake of his spiritual
attributes, as having given you a spiritual
power worth more than the imiverse, it is
only by regarding his intimacy with the sotiJ,
his paternal concern for it, his perpetual
influence on it, it is only by these views that
worship rises into filial confidence, hope, joy,
and rapture, and puts forth a truly ennobling
power. Worship has too often been abject,
the ofiering of fear or selfishness. God's
greatness, though a pledge of greatness to
his children, and his omnipotence, though an
assurance to us of mighty power in our con-
flict with evil, have generated self-c(xitempt
and discouraged access to Him. My friends,
come hither to worship God as your Spiritual
Father. No other view can so touch and
penetrate the soul, can place it so near its
Maker, can open before it such vast pros^
peets, can awsLken such transports of praise
and gratitude, can bow the soul in such inge-
nuous sorrow for sin, can so fortify 3^u for
the conflict against evil. Ought we not to
rejoice that this bouse is reared for the woi^
ship of the spiritual Father?

'I1ie exposition which I have given under
this head of the parental relation of God to the
human race, is one in which I take the deepest
interest. I have felt, however, as I proceeded,
that very possibly objections would spring up
in the minds of some who hear me. There
are not a few who are sceptical as to whatever
supposes a higher condition of human nature
than they now observe. Perhaps some here,
eooki they speak, would say, "We do not
sec the marks of this fatherly interest of God
in man of which you have spoken. We do
not see in man the signs of a being so be-
loved, so educated, as you have supposed.
His weakness, sufferings, and sins are surely
D^proofe of his having been created to receive
God's spirit, to partake of the divinity." On
(Us poiiit I have much to say, but my answer
mutt be limited to a few woids. I reply, that
ttieloTe ofan Infinite Father may be expected
oAeft to woHc in methods beyond the compre-
iHftki^ii of our limited minds. An immortal

i)eing in his infancy cannot of course com-
prehend all the processes of his education,
many of which look forward to ages too
distant for the imagination to explore. I
would add, that notwithstanding the darkness
which hangs over human life on account of
the greatness of our nature, we can yet see
bright signatures of the parental concern of
God, and see them in the very circumstances
which at first create doubt. Because we
suffer, it ought not to be inferred that God is
not a Father. Suffering, trial, exposure,
seem to be necessary elements in the educa-
tion of a moral being. It is fit that a being
whose happiness and dignity are to be found
in vigorous action and in forming himself,
should be bom with undeveloped capacities,
and be bom into a world of mingled difficul-
ties and aids. We do see that energy of
thought, will, affection, virtue, the energy
which is our true life and joy, often springs
from trial. We can see. too, that it is well
that society, like the individual, should begin
in imperfection, because men in this way
become to each other means of discipline,
bebause joint sufferings and the necessity of
joint efforts awaken both the affections and
the faculties, because occasion and incitement
are thus given to generous sacrifices, to heroic
stmggies, to the most beautiful and stirring
manifestations of philanthropy, patriotism,
and devotion. Were I called on to prove
God's spiritual parental interest in us. I would
point to the trials, temptations, evils of Ufe ;
for to these we owe the character of Christ,
we owe the apostle and martyr, we owe the
moral force and deep sympathy of private
and domesdc life, we owe the development
of what is divine in human natiue. Truly
God is our Father, and as such to be wor-

Having thus set forth very imperfectly, but
from a full heart, the excellence of the homage
which is here to be rendered to God in his
Parental character, I ought now to proceed,
according to the plan of this discourse, to
show that we should enter this house with
joy, because it is set apart to the worship of
God in Spirit and in Tmth, to an Inward not
outward worship. In discussing this topic,
I might enlarge on the vast and beneficent
revolution which Jesus Christ wrought in
religion by teaching that God is a spirit, and
to t>c spiritually adored. I might show how
much he wrought for human elevation and
happiness when, in pronouncing the text, he
shook the ancient temples to their founda-
tions, quenched the fire on the heathen and
Jewish altars, wrested the instmments of
sacrifice from the hand of the priest, abolished
sanctity of place, and consecriued the human
soul as the true house of God. But the
nature, grandeur, benefits of this cpkiUwl

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worship are subjects too extensive for our
present consideration. Instead of discussion,
I can only use the words of eidiortation. I
can only say that you who are to assemble in
this place are peculiarly bound to inward
worship, for to you especially Christianity is
an inward system. Most other denominations
expect salvation more or less from what Jesus
does abroad, especially from his agency on
the mind of God. You expect it from what
he does within your own minds. His great
gloty, according to your views, lies in his
influence on the human soul, in the commu-
nication of his spirit to his followers. To you
salvation, heaven, and hell have their seat in
the soul. To you Christianity is wholly a
spiritual system. Come, then, to this pjace
to worship with the soul, to elevate the spirit
to God. Let not this house be desecrated by
a religion of show. Let it not degenerate into
a place of forms. Let not your pews be
occupied by lifeless machines. Do not come
here to take part in lethargic repetitions of
sacred words. Do not come from a cold sense
of duty, to quiet conscience with the thought
of having paid a debt to God. Do not come
to perform a present task to insure a future
heaven. Come to find heaven now, to anti-
cipate the happiness of that better world by
breathing its spirit, to bind your souls indis-
solubly to your Maker. Come to worships in
spirit and in truth; that is. intelligently,
rationallv, with clear judgment, with just and
honourable conceptions of the Infinite Father,
not prostrating your imderstandings, not re-
nouncing the divine gift of reason, but offering
an enlightened homage, such as is due to the
Fountain of intelligence and truth. — Come-to
worship with the heart as well as intellect,
with hfe, fervour, teal. Sleep over your busi-
ness if you will, but not over your religion. —
Come to worship with strong conviction, with
living faith in a higher presence than meets
the eye, with a feeling of God's presence not
only arotmd you, but in the depths of your
souls.— Come to worship with a filial spirit,
not with fear, dread, and gloom ; not with sepul-
chral tones and desponding looks, but with
humble, cheerful, boundless trust, with over-
flowinggradtude,withalove wiUingand earnest
to do and to suffer whatever may approve
your devodon to God. — Come to worship Him
with what He most delights in, with aspuration
for spiritual Ught and life; come to cherish
and express desires for virtue, for purity, for
power over temptation, stronger and more
insatiable than spring up in your most eager
pursuits of busmess or pleasure ; and wel-
come joyfully every holy impulse, every ac-
cession of strength to virtuoui'purpose, to the
love of God and man. — In awcnd, come to offer
a refined, generous worship, to ofier a tribute
worthy of Him who is the PeiiiBctioaof truth*

goodness, beauty, and blessednesft. Adoie
Him with the <^lmest reason and the pro>
foundest love, and strive to confomi your*
selves to what you adore.

I have now. my friends, set before yon the
worship to which this building is set apart,
and which, from its rational, filial, pure, and
ennobling character, renders this solenmity a
season for thankfulness and joy. I should
not, however, be just to this occasion, or to
the great purpose of this bouse, if I were to
stop here. My remarics have hitherto been
confined to the worship which is k>be offered
within these walls, to the influence to be
exerted on you when assembled hete. But
has this house no higher end than to give an
impulse to your minds for the very few hours
which you are to spend beneath its roof?
Then we have Uttle reason to enter it with
joy. The great end for which you are to
worship here is, that you vaaq worship every-
where.- You are to feel God's presence here,
that it may be felt wherever you go. and
whatever you da The very idea of spnitual
homage is, that it takes possession of the soul,
and becomes a part of our very being. The
great design of this act of dedication is,- that
your houses, 3rour places of business, may be
consecrated to God. This topic of omni-
present worship I cannot expand. One view
of it, however, I must not omit. Fh>m the
peculiar character of the worship to whidi
this house is consecrated, you learn the k^$4
of worship which you should carry from it
into your common lives. It is not unconunoa
for the Christian teacher to say to his con-
gregadon. that, when they leave the churdi,
they go forth into a nobler temple than ooc
made with hands, into the temple of tlie
Creadon, and that they must go forth to
worship God in his works. The views gnrea
of the true worship in this discourse will lead
me to a somewhat difierent style of exposition.
I will, indeed, say to you, go from this boose
to adore God as He is rev«iled in the bound-
less universe. This is one end of your wor*
ship here. But I would add, that a hiKiier
end is, that you should ^ forth to ww slu p
Him as He is revealed in his rational aad
moral of&pring, and to worship Him fay fal>
fiUing, as you have power, his purposes ia
regard to these. My great aim in this dfe-
course has been to show that God is to be
adored here as the Father (^ ratiooal and
moral l)eings, of yourselves and all mankind;
and such a worship tends directly and it
designed to lead us, when we go hence. |0
recognize God in pur own nature, to see^te
men his children, to respect and serve tfiem ipr
their relationship to the Divinity, to s^ ki
them signatures of greatness amidst all f * * "
imperfection, and to love them widi \
than earthly love. We must not look \

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«a the nniveree with awe and on man with
scorn ; for man» who can comprehend the
universe and its laws, "is greater than
the universe, which cannot comprehend
itself." God dwells in every human being
more intimately than in the outward crea-
tion. The voice of God comes to us in
the ocean, the thunder, the whirlwind ; but
how much more of God is there in his
inward voice, in the intuitions <A reason, in
the rebukes of conscience, in the whispers of
the Holy Spirit. I would have you see God
in the awful mountain and the tranquil
valley; but more, much more, in the clear
judgment, the moral energy, the disinterested
purpose, the pious gratitude, the immortal
hope of a good man. Go from this house to
worship God by reverencing the human soul
as hb chosen sanctuary. Revere it in your-
selves, revere it in others, and labour to carry
it forward to perfection. Worship God
within these walls, as universally, impartially
good to his human oftspring ; and go forth
to breathe the same spirit. Go forth to
respect the rights, and seek the true, en-
during weUiare of all within your influence.
Carry vrith you the conviction that to trample
on a human being, of whatever colour,
clime, rank, condition, is to trample on God's
child ; that to degrade or corrupt a man, is
to deface a holier temple than any material
sanctuary. Mercv, Love, is more acceptable
worship to God than all sacrifices or outward
ofiierings. The most celestial worship ever
paid on earth was rendered by Christ, when
Ae aroroached man, and the most sinfiil man,
as a child of God, when he toiled and bled
to awaken what was Divine in the human
soul, to regenerate a fallen workl. Be such
the worship which you shall carry from this
place. Go forth to do good with every
power which God bestows, to make every
place you enter happier by your presence, to
CRXTuse aU human interests, to throw your
WDole weighiinto the scale of human freedom
ajod improvement, to withstand all wrong,
to uphold all right, and especially to give
light, life, strength to the immortal souL He
who rears up one child in Christian virtue, or
lecovers one fellow-creature to God, builds a
temple more precious than Solomon's or St;
Feler's^ more enduring than earth or heaven.
1 have now finished the general discussion
wkich this occasion seemed to me to require,
mA I trust that a few remarks of a personal
m4 ^ocaX character will be received with in-
" 'pBOce. It is with no common emodon
1 1 take part in the present solemnity. I
\ now to teach where in my childhood
9mA youth I was a learner. The generation
I then knew has almost wholly
The venerable man, whose
\ vmcel then heard in this place, has

long since gone to his reward. Mv earliest
friends, w)k> watched over my childhood and
led me by the hand to this spot, have been
taken. Still my emotions are not sad. I
rejoice; for whilst I see melancholv changes
around me, and, still more, fed that time,
which has bowed other frames, has touched
my own, I see that the work of human im-
provement has gone on. I see that clearer
and brighter truths than were opened on my
own youthful mind, are to be imparted to suc-
ceeding generations. Herein 1 do and will

On looking back to my early jrears, I can
distinctly recollect unhappy influences exerted
on my mind by the general tone of religion
in this town. I can recollect, too, a corrup-
tion of morals among those of my own age,
which made boyhood a cridcal, perilous
season. Still I must bless God for the place
of my nativity ; for, as my mind unfolded, I
became more and more alive to the beautiful
scenery which now attracLs strangers to our
island. My first liberty was used in roaming
over the neighbouring fields and shores ; and
amid this glorious* nature, that love of liberhr
sprang up, which has gained strength
within me to this hour. I early received
impressions of the great and the beautiful,
which I believe have had no small in-
fluence in determining my modes of thought
and habits of life. In this town I pur-
sued for a time my studies of theology. I
had no professor or teacher to guide me ;
but I had two noble pkices of study.
One was yonder beautiful edifice, now so
frequented and so useful as a public library,
then so deserted that I spent day after day,
and sometimes week after week, amidst its
dusty volumes, without interruption firom a
single visitor. The other place was yonder
beach, the roar of which has so often mingled
with the worship of this place, my daily resort,
dear to me in the sunshine, still more attrac-
tive in the storm. Seldom do I visit it now
without thinking of the work which there, in
the sight of that beauty, in the sound of those
waves, was carried on in my soul. No spot
on earth has helped to form me so much as
that beach. There I lifted up my voice in
praise amidst the tempest. There, softened
by beauty, I poured out my thanksgiving and
contrite confessions. There, in reverential
sympathy with the mighty power around me,
I b^ame conscious of power within. There
struggling thoughts and emotions broke
forth, as if moved to utterance by nature's
eloquence of the winds and waves. There
began a happiness surpassing all worldly
pleasures, all gifts of fortune, the happiness
of communing with the works of God. Par-
don me this reference to myself. 1 believe
that the worship, of which I hate this day


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^KikeQ. was aido4 in ™y own soul by the
sceri^ \^ which my early life was passed.
Amidst thes« scenes» aad in speaking of this
worshipi allow me to thank God that this
beautiful island was the place of my birth.

Leaving what is merely personal, I would
express my joy, and it is most sincere, in the
dedication of this house, regarded as a proof
and a means of the diffusion of Christian
truth, ^ompt perhaps, may think that this
joy is not a little heightened by seeing a
church set apart to the particular sect to
which I am said to belong. But I trust that
what you have this day heard will satisfy most,
if not all who hear, that it is not a sectarian
exultation to which I am giving utterance.
I indeed take pleasure in thinkiog, that the
particular views which I have adopted of the
disputed doctrines of religion, will here be
made known ; but I rejoice much more in
thinking that this house is pledged to no
peculiar doctrines, that it is not erected to
bind my own or any man's opinions on this
or on future times, that it is consecrated to
fn& investigation of religious truth, to reli*
gious progress, to the right of private judg*
ment, to Protestant and Christian liberty.
Most earnestly do I pray that a purer theo*
logy, that diviner illuminations, that a truer
worship than can now be found in our own
or in ai>y sect, may be the glory of this bouse.
We who now consecrate it to God believe in
human progress. We do not say to the
spirit of truth, *'Thus far, and no farther."
We reprobate the exclusive, tyrannical spirit
of the churches of this age, which denounce
as an enemy to Christianity whoever in the
use of his intellectual liberty, and in the inter-^

greUtion of Qod's wo«d fior himself, may differ
om the traditions and creecte which have
been received from falUble forefathers. We
lear these waUs not to a sect, but to reli*
^ous, moml, intellectual, Protestant, Chris-
tian liberty.

I rejoice that this temple of liberty is opened
on this spot. I feel that this town has a right
to an establishment in which conscientious
Christians ooay inquire and speak without
dreading the thtinders of excommunication,
in which Protestantbm will not be disho-
floured by the usurpations of the Romish
Church. This island. Uke the State to which
it beloi\gSi was originally settled by men who
came hither for Uberty 6f consdtBCt, and hi
assertion of the right to interpret for them*
selves the word of God. ReUgk>us freedom
was the very principle on whkh this town
was founded, and I rejoice to know that the
spirit of religious freedom has never wanted
champions here. I have recently read a very
valuable discourse, whkh was delivered hi
^his town about a centuiy ago, and just a
-«ituxy after tl» oes^on of this island to our

feithers by the Indians, and wMch tn^tbes a
liberality of thought and feehng, a reverence
for the rights of the undeistaiiding and the
conscience, very rare at that time in other
parts of the country, and very far from being
universal bow. Its author, the Rev. Mr.
Callender, was pastor of the first Baptist
church in this place, the oldest of our
churches, aad it was dedicated to a descen-
dant of the venerable Coddington, our first
Governor. The spirit of religious liberty
which pervades this discourse has astonished
as well as n^oiced me, and it shoukl thrill the
hearts of this people. Let me read a few
sentences : —

" It must be a mean contracted way of
thinking, to confine the favotn- of God, and the
power of godliness, to one set of speculative
opinions, or any particular external forms of
worship. How hard must it be to imagine
that all other Christians but ourselves must
be formal, and hypocritical, and destitute of
the grace of God. because theh- education or
capacity differs from ours, or that God has
given them more or less light than to us;
though we cannot deny, they give the proper
evidence of their fearing God by their work-
ing righteousness, and show their love to Hln
by keeping what they understand He has com-
mand^; and though thdr faith in Christ
Jesus purifies their Marts and works t^ k>ve
and overcomes the >vorld. It would be hard to
show why Uberty of conscience, mutual for-
bearance and good will, why brotherly kiml-
ness and charity is not as good a centre of
unity as a constrained uniformity in external
oeremonies, or a forced subscription to am-
biguous articles. Experience has dearly
convinced the worid that unanimity fn jiM^-
ment and a£^tion cannot be secured hf
penal law. Who can tell why the unity a
^rit in the bonds of peace is not enough for
Christians to aim at ? And who can assign a
reason v^y they may not love one anotho-
though abounding in their own several senses ?
And why, if they live in peace, the God of km
and peace may not be with them ?

••There is no other bottom but this to wat
upon, to leave othears the liberty we shooM
desire oursdves, the liberty wherewith Chflst
bath made them free."

Such was the liberal spirit expressed in tfis
town a hundred years ago. I would it wp«
more common in our own day.

Another noble friend of religious liberty
threw a lustre on this island immediattdf
before the revolution. I mean the Rey. Dr.
Stiles, pastor of the Second Congreg^Uioani
Church, and afterwards President of Yale
College. This country has not, perha^
produced a more learned man. To ^nlafffed
acquaintance with physical science be adoed
ext^ofivQ mearches mto philology; histvxy.

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end antiqutHes; nor did his indefatigable
mind suffer any opportunity to escape him of
adding to his rich treasures of knowledge.
His virtues were proportioned to his intellec-
tual acquisition. IcanweUrememlxr howhis
name was cherished among his parishioners
giter years of separation. His visit to this
plaoe was to many a festival. When Uttle
tnore than a child, I was present at some of his
pivate meetings with the more religious part
of his former congregation ; and I recollect
how I was moved by the tears and expressive
looks with which his affectionate exhortations
were received. In his faith he vms what was
called a moderate Calvinist; but his heart
was of no sect. He carried into his religion
the ^rif of liberty which then stirred the
whole cotmtry. Intolerance, church tyranny
in all its forms, he abhorred. He respected
the right of private iudgment where others
would have thought tnemselves authorized to
festrain it A young man, to whom he had
bc»a) as a father, one day communicated to
him doubts concerning the Trinity. He ex-
pressed his sorrow ; but mildly, and with
tmdiminished affection, told him to go to the
Scriptures, and to seek his faith there, and
only there. His friendships were confined to
tio parties. He desired to heal the wounds
pf the divided church of Christ, not by a
common creed, but by the spirit of love.
He wished to break every voke, civil and
ecclesiastical, from men's necks. To the in-
fluence of this distinguished man in the circle
in which I was brought up, I may owe in

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 73 of 169)