William Ellery Channing.

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

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must see and feel that a human being is
something important, and of immeasurable
importance. We must see and feel the broad
distance between the spiritual life within us
and the vegcUkUe or animal life which acts
an:>und us. 1 cannot love the flower, how-
ever beantiful. with a disinterested affection
which will make me sacrifice to it my own
prosperity. You will in vain exhort me to
attach myself, with my whole strength of
affection, to the inferior animals, however
useful or attractive ; and why not? They
want the capacity of truth, virtue, and pro-
gress. They want that principle of duty
which akme gives permanence to a being ;
and accondingly they soon lose their indi-
vidual nature, and go to mingle with the
general mass. A human being deserves a
different afEsctJon from what we bestow on
inferior cseatnref, for he has a rational and
moxal nature, by which he is to endure for
ever, by which he mav achieve an unutter-
•,or ank into an omiftterable

woe. He is more interesting, through what
is in him, than tbe earth or heavens ; and
the only way to love him aright is to catch
some glimpse of this immortal power within
him. Until this is done, all charity is Uttle
more than instinct ; we shall embrace the
great interests of human nature with cold-

It may be said, that Christianity has done
much to avraken benevolence, and that it has
taught men to call one another brethren.
Yes. to call one another so ; but has it as yet
given the true feeling of brotherhood? We
undoubtedly feel ourselves to be all of one
race, and this is well. We trace ourselves up
to one pair, and feel the same blood flowing
in our veins. But do we understand our
spiritual Brotherhood ? Do we feel ourselves
to be derived from one Heavenly Parent, in
whose image we are all made, and whose
periiection we may constantly approach ? Do
we feel that there is one divine life in our
own and in all souls ? This seems to me the
only true bond of man to man. Here is a
tie more sacred, more enduring, than all the
ties of this earth. Is it felt, and do we in
consequence truly honour one another ?

Sometimes, indeed, we see men giving
sincere, profound, and almost unmeasured
respect to their fellow-creatures: but to whom?
To great men; to men distinguished by a
broad line from the nuiltitude ; to men pre-
eminent by genius, force of character, daring
effort, high station, brilliant success. To
such honour is given; but this is not to
"honour all men ;" and the homage paid to
such is generally unfriendly to that Christian
estimate of human beings for which I am
now pleading. The great are honoured at
the expense of their race. They absorb and
concentrate the world's admiration, and their
less gifted fellow-beings are thrown by their
brightness into a deeper shade, and passed
over with a colder contempt. Now I have
no desire to derogate from the honour paid
to great men, but I say, Let them not rise by
the depression of the multitude. I say, that
great men, justly regarded, exalt our estimate
of the human race, and bind us to the multi-
tude of men more closely ; and when they
are not so regarded, when they are converted
into idols, when they serve to wean our in-
terest from ordinary men, they corrupt us,
they sever the sacred bond of humanity which
should attach us to all, and our characters
becon^ vitiated by our very admiration of
greamess. The true view of great men is,
that they are only examples and manifesta-
tions of our common nature, showing what
belongs to all souls, though unfolded as yet
only in a few. The light which shines from
them is, after all, but a faint revelation of the
povper which, is treasured up in every human

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being. They are not prodigies, not miracles,
but natural developments of the human soul,
lliey are indeed as men amon^ children, but
the children have a principle of growth which
leads to manhood.

That great men and the multitude of minds
are of one family, is apparent, I think, in the
admiration which the great inspire into the
multitude. A sincere, enlightened admira<
tion always springs from something congenial
in him who feeU it with him who inspires it.
He that can understand and delight in great-
ness was created to partake of it ; the germ
is in him ; and sometimes this admiration, in
what we deem inferior minds, discovers a
nobler spirit than belongs to the great man
who awsUcens it ; for sometimes the great man
is so absorbed in his own greatness as to
admire no other; and I should not hesitate
to say. that a common mind, which is yet
capable of a generous admiration, is destined
to rise higher than the man of eminent capa-
cities, who can enjoy no power or excellence
but his own. When I hear of great men, I
wish not to separate them fiom their race,
but to blend them with it I esteem it no
small benefit of the philosophy of mind, that
it teaches us that the elements of the greatest
thoughts of the man of genius exist in his
humbler brethren, and that the faculties which
the scientific exert in the profoundcst dis-
coveries are precisely the same with those
wliidi common men employ in the daily
labours of life.

To show the grounds on which the obliga-
tion to honour all men rests, I might take a
minute survey of that human nature which is
common to all, and set forth its claims to
reverence. But, leaving this wide range, I
observe that there is one principle of the soul
which makes all men essentially equal, which
places all on a level as to means of happiness,
which may placein the first rank of human
beings those who are the most depressed in
woridly condition, and which therefore gives
the most depressed a title to interest and
respect I refer to the Sense of Duty, to the
power of discerning and doing right, to the
moral and religious principle, to the inward
monitor which speaks in the name of God, to
the capacity of virtue or excellence. This is
the great gift of God. We can conceive no
greater. In seraph and archangel, we can
conceive no higher energy than the power of
virtue, or the power of forming themselves
after the will and moral perfections of God.
This power breaks down all barriers between
the seraph and the lowest human being; it
makes them brethren. Whoever has derived
from God this perception and capacity of
rectitude, has a bond of union with the
spiritual world, stronger than all the ties of
Datore. He possesses a principle which, if

he is faithful to it, must carry him forward
for ever, and insures lo him the improvement
and happiness of the highest order of bangs.

It is this moral power which makes all
men essentially equal, which annihilates all
the distinctions of this world. Through this,
the ignorant and the poor may become the
greatest of the race; for the greatest is he
who is most true to the principle of duty. It
is not improbable that the noblest human
beings are to be found in the least favoured
conditions of society, among those whose
names are never uttered beyond the narrow
circle in which they toil and suffer, who have
but "two mites" to give away, who have
perhaps not even that, but who "desire to be
fed with the crumbs which fall from the rich
man's table; " for in this class may be found
those who have withstood the severest temp-
tation, who have practised the most arduous
duties, who have confided in God under the
heaviest trials, who have been mosj wronged
and have forgiven most ; and these are the
great, the exalted. It matters nothing what
the particular duties are to wliich the individual
is called,— how minute or obscure in their
outward form. Greatness in God's sight lies,
not in the extent of the sphere which is filled,
or of the effect which is produced, but alto-
gether in the power of vutue in the soul, in
the energy with which God's will is chosen,
with which trial is borne, and goodness loved
and pursued.

The sense of duty is the greatest gift of
God. The Idea of Right is the primary and
the highest revelation of God to the human
mind, and all outward revelations are founded
on atul addressed to it All mysteries of
science and theology fade away before the
grandeur of the simple perception of duty,
which dawns on the mind of the little child.
That perception brings him into the moral
kingdom of God. That lays on him an ever-
lasting bond. He in whom the conviction of
duty is unfolded, becomes subject from that
moment to a law which no power in the
universe can abrogate. He forms a new and
indissoluble connection with God, that of an
accountable being. He begins to stand before
an inward tribunal, on the decisions of which
his whole happiness rests ; he hears a voice
which, if faithfully followed, will guide him
to perfection, and in neglecting which he
brings upon himself inevitable misery. We
little understand the solemnity of the moral
principle in every human mind. We think
not how awfiil are its functions. We forget
that it is the germ <rf immortality. Did we
understand it, we should look with a feeling
of reverence on every being to whom it is

Having shown, in the preceding remarks,
that there is a foundation in the human soul

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iox the honour enjoined in our text towards our model, reveals it only that we may thirst
all men, I proceed to observe, that, if we for and approach it From Jesus I learn
look next into Christianity, we shall find this what man is to become, that is. if true to this
duty enforced by new and still more solemn new light ; and true he may be.
considerations. This whole religion is a Chmtianity. I have said, shows man as a
testimony to the worth of man in the sight sinner, but I nowhere meet in it those dark
of God, to the importance of human nature, views of our race which would make us
to the infinite purposes for which we were shrink from it as from a nest of venomous
framed. God is there set forth as sending reptiles. According to the courteous style of
to the succour of his human family his theology, man has been called half brute and
Beloved Son, the bright image and represen- half devil. But this is a perverse and per-
tative of his own perfections; and sending nicious exaggeration. The brute, as it is
him, not simply to roll away a burden of pain called, that is, animal, appetite is indeed
and punishment (for this, however magnified strong in human beings ; but is there nothing
in systems of theology, is not his highest within us but appetite ? Is there nothing to
work), but to create men after that divine war with it? Does this constitute (he essence
image which he himself bears, to purify the of the soul ? Is it not rather an accident, the
soul from every stain, to communicate to it result of the mind's union with matter? Is
new power over evil, and to open before it not its spring in the body, and m^ it not be
Immortality as its aim and destination, — expected to perish with the body? In addition
Immortality, by which we are to understand, to animal propensities, I see the tendency to
not merely a perpetual, but an ever-improving criminal excess in all men's passions. I sec
and cel^tial being. Such are the views of not one only, but many Tempters in every
Christianity. And these blessings it proffers, human heart. Nor am I insensible to the
not to a few, not to the educated, not to the fearful power of these enemies to our virtue.
eminent, but to all human beings, to the But is there nothing in man but temptation,
poorest, and the most fallen; and we know but propensity to sin? Are there no counter-
ihat, through the power of its promises, it has working powers ? no attractions in virtue ? no
in not a few instances raised the most fallen tendencies to God? no sympathies with
to true greatness, and given them, in their sorrow ? no reverence for greatness ? no moral
present virtue and peace, an earnest of the conflicts? no triumphs of principle? Tliis
Heaven which it unfolds. Such is Chris- very strength of temptation seems to me to be
tianity. Men. viewed in the light of this one of the indications of man's greatness.
ieligi<Mi, are beings cared for by God, to It shows a being framed to make progress
whotn He has given^ his Son. on whom He through difficulty, suffering, and conflict ;
pours forth his Spirit, and whom He has that is, it shows a being designed for the
created for the highest good in the universe, highest order of virtues ; for we all feel by an
for participation in his own perfections and unerring instinct that virtue is elevated in
h-nppiness. My friends, such is Christianity, proportion to the obstacles which it sur-
Our scepticism as to our own nature cannot mounts, to the power with which it is chosen
quench the bright light which that religion and held fast. I see men placed by their
sheds on the soul and on the prospects of Creator on a field of battle, but compassed
mankind; and just as far as we receive its with peril that they may triumph over it; and,
txu Ji, we shall honour all men. though often overborne, still summoned to

I know I shall be told that Christianity new efibrts, still privileged to approach the
speaks of man as a sinner, and thus points Source of all power, and to seek ' ' grace in
hjm out to abhorrence and scorn. I know it time of need," and still addressed in tones of
speaks of human sin, but it does not speak of encouragement by a celestial Leader, who
this as indissolubly bound up with the soul, has himself fought and conquered, and holds
as entering into the essence ofhuman nature, forth to them his own crown of righteousness
but as a temporary stain, which it calls on us and victory.

to wnsh away. Its greatest doctrine is, that From these brief views of human nature
the most lost arc recoverable, that the most and of Christianity, you will see the ground:^
fallen may rise, and tliat there is no height of of the solemn obligation of honouring all men,
puritv, power, felicity in the universe, to of attaching infinite importance to human
whicfi the guiltiest mind may not, through nature, and of respecting it, even In its
penitence, attain. Christianity, indeed, gives present infant, feeble, tottering state. This
us m deeper, keener feeling of the guilt of sentiment of honour or respect for human
mankind than any other religion. By the beings strikes me more and more as essential
revelation of perlection in the character of to the Christian character. I conceive that a
JcsQS Christ, it shows us how imperfect even more thorough understanding and a more
the best men are. But it reveals perfection faithful culture of this would do very much
«i [esos, not for our discouragement, but as to carry forward the church and the worid.

•' D

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In truth, I attach to this sentiment such im-
portance, that I measure by its progress the
progress of society. I judge of public events
very much by their bearing on this. I esti-
mate poUtical revolutions chiefly by their
tendency to exalt men's conceptions of their
nature, and to inspire them with respect for
one another's claims. The present stupendous
movements in Europe naturally suggest, and
almost force upon me, this illustration of the
importance which I have given to the senti-
ment enjoined in our text. Allow me to
detain you a few moments on this topic.

Wliat is it, then, I ask, which makes the
present revolutionary movement abroad so
interesting? I answer, that I see in it the
principle of respect for human nature and
for the human race developing itself more
powerfully, and this to me constitutes its
chief interest. I see in it proofs, indications,
that the mind is awakening to a consciousness
of what it is, and of what it is made for. In
this movement I see man becoming to him-
self a higher object. I see him attaining to
the conviction of the equal and indestructible
rights of every human being. I see the
dawning of that great principle, that the
individual is not made to be the instrument
of others, but to govern himself by an inward
law, and to advance towards his proper per-
fection; that he belongs to himself and to
God, and to no human superior. I know,
indeed, that, in the present state of the world,
these conceptions are exceedingly unsettled
and obscure; and, in truth, little effort has
hitherto been made to place them in a clear
light, and to give them a definite and practical
form in men's minds. The multitude know
not with any distinctness what they want.
Imagination, unschooled by reason and ex-
perience, dazzles them with bright but base-
less visions. They are driven onward with a
perilous violence, by a vague consciousness of
not having found their element ; by a vague
yet noble faith in a higher good than they
have attained; by impatience under restraints
which they feel to be degrading. In this
violence, however, there is nothing strange,
nor ought it to discourage us. It is, I believe,
universally true that great principles, in their
first development, mwifest themselves irregu-
larly. It is so in religion. In history we
often see religion, especially after long de-
pression, breaking out in vehemence and
enthusiasm, sometimes stirring up bloody
conflicts, and through struggles establishing
a calmer empire over society. In like manner,
political history shows us that men's con-
sciousness of their rights and essential
equality has at first developed itself passion-
ately. Still the consciousness is a noble one,
and the presage of a better social state.

Am I asked, what I hope from the present

revolutionary movements in Europe? t an-
swer, that I hope a good which includes all
others, and which almost hides all others from
my view. I hope the subversion of institu-
tions by which the true bond between man
and man has been more or less dissolved, by
which the will of one or a few has broken
down the will, the heart, the conscience of the
many ; and I hope that, in the place of these,
are to grow up institutions which will express,
cherish, and spread far and wide a just re-
spect for human nature, which will strengthen
in men a consciousness of their powers, duties,
and rights, which ^yill train the individual to
moral and religious independence, which will
propose as their end the elevation of all orders
of the community, and which will give full
scope to the best minds in this work of general
improvement. I do not say that I expect it
to be suddenly realized. The sun, which is
to bring on a brighter day, is rising in thick
and threatening clouds. Perhaps the minds
of men were never more unquiet than at the
present moment. Still I do not despair. That
a higher order of Ideas or principles is begin-
ning to be unfolded ; that a wider philanthropy
is beginning to triumph over the distinctions
of ranks and nations ; that a new feeling ot
what is due to the ignorant, poor, and de-
praved, has sprung up ; that the right of eveiy
human being to such an education as shall
call forth his best faculties, and train him more
and more to control himself, is recognized as
it never was before ; and that government is
more and more regarded as intended not to
elevate the few, but to guard the rights of all;
that these great revolutions in principle have
commenced and are spreading, who can deny ?
and to me they are prophetic of an improved
condition of human nature and human affairs.
— Oh, that this melioration might be accom-
phshed without blood ! As a Christian, 1 feel
a misgiving, when I rejoice in any good, how-
ever great, for which this fearful price has been
paid. In truth, a good so won is necessarily
imperfect and generally transient. War may
subvert a despotism, but seldom builds up
better institiUions. Even when joined, as in
our own history, >vith high principles, it in-
flames and leaves behind it passions which
make liberty a feverish conflict of jealous
parties, and which expose a people to the
tyranny of faction imder the forms of freedom.
Few things impair men's reverence for human
nature more than war; and did I not see other
and holier influences than the sword working
out the regeneration of the race, I should
indeed despair.

In this discourse I have spoken of the
grounds and importance of that honour oi
respect which is due from us, and enjoined on
us, towards all human beings. The various
forms in which this principle is to be exerdsed

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or manifested, I want time to enlarge on. I
would only say, " Honour all men. " Honour
man. from the beginning to the end of his
earthly course. Honour the child. Welcome
into hieing the infant, with a feeling of its mys-
terious grandeur, with the feeling that an im-
mortal existence has begun, that a spirit has
been kindled which is never to be quenched.
Honour the child. On this principle all good
education rests. Never shall we learn to train
lip the child till we take it in our arms, as
Jesus did, and feel distinctly that " of such is
ibe kingdom of heaven." In that short sen-
tence is taught the spirit of the true system of
education; and, for want of imderstanding it.
Utile effectual aid, I fear, is yet given to the
heavenly principle in the infant soul. — ^Again.
Honour tne poor. This sentiment of respect
is essential to improving the connection be-
tween the more and less prosperous conditions
of society. This alone makes beneficence
truly godlike. Without it, almsgiving de-
grades the receiver. We must learn how
slight and shadowy are the distinctions be-
tween us and the poor; and that the last in
outward condition may be first in the best
attributes of humanity. A fraternal union,
founded on this deep conviction, and intended
to lift up and strengthen the exposed and
tempted poor, is to do infinitely more for that
sufleiing class than all our artificial associa-
tions; and till Christianity shall have breathed

into us this spirit of respect for our nature,
wherever it is found, we shall do them little
good. I conceive that, in the present low
state of Christian nrtue, we little apprehend
the power which might be exerted over the
fallen and destitute, bv a benevolence which
should truly, thoroughly recognize in them the
image of God.

Perhaps none of us have yet heard or can
comprehend the tone of voice in which a man,
thoroughly impressed with this sentiment,
would speak to a fellow-creature. It is a
language hardly known on earth; and no
eloquence, I believe, has achieved such won-
ders as it is destined to accomplish. I must
stop, though I have but begun the applica-
tion of the principle which I have urced, I
will close as I began, with saying, that the
great revelation which man now needs is a
revelation of man to himself. The faith which
is most wanted is a faith in what we and our
fellow-beings may become, a faith in the
divine germ or principle in every soul. In
regard to most of what are called the mys-
teries of religion, we may innocently be igno-
rant. But the mystery within ourselves, the
mvstery of our spiritual, accountable, immor-
tal nature, it behoves us to explore. Happy
are they who have begun to penetrate it, and
in whom it has awakened feelings of awe
towards themselves, and of deep interest and
honour towards their fellow-creatures.


The following Lectures were prepared for two
meetings of mechanics, one of them consisting
of apprentices, the ot her of adults. For watit
of strength they were delivered only to the
fbnner, though, in preparing them, I had kept
the latter also in view. "The Mechanic
Apprentices' Library Association," at whose
request the Lectures are published, is an in-
stitution of much promise, not only fumisliing
a considerable means of intellectual improve-
ment, but increasing the self-respect and con-
ducing to the moral safety of the members.

When I entered on this task, I thought
or preparing only one lecture of the usual
length. But I soon found that I could not
do justice Xo itiv Tiews in so narrow a com-
pass. I thefemre determined to write at
ttxge, And to communicate through the press
fbe results of my labour, if they should be
dMM^f wortfqr of publicadon. With this

purpose, I introduced topics which I did not
deliver, and which 1 thought might be use-
fully presented to some who might not hear
me. I make this statement to prevent the
objection, that the lectures are not, in all
things, adapted to those to whom they were
delivered. Whilst written chiefly for a class,
they were also intended for the community.

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 8 of 169)