William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 86 of 169)
Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 86 of 169)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


men whom he trained up and snpematurally
prepared to be bis witnesses to the world.



On what ground, I ask, do the creed-makers
demand assent to their articles as condition of
church membership or salvation ? What has
conferred on them infallibility? "Show me
your proofs," I say to them, "of Christ
speaking in you. Work some miracle. Utter
some prophecy. Show me something divine
in you, which other men do not possess. Is it
possible that you are unaided men Uke mjrself,
having no more right to interpret the New
Testament than myself, and that you yet exalt
your interpretations as infallible standards of
truth, and the necessary conditions of salva-
tion ? Stand out of my path. I wish to go to
the master. Have you words of greater power
than his? Can you speak to the human con-
science or heart in a mightier voice than he?
What is it which emboldens you to tell mc
what I must learn of Christ or be lost ? "

I cannot but look on human creeds with
feelings approaching contempt. When I
bring them into contrast with the New Tes-
tament, into what insignificance do they
sink I What are they ? Skeletons, freezing
abstractions, metaphysical expressions of un-
intelligible dogmas ; and these I am to re^rd
as the expositions of the fresh, Uvin^, infinite
truth which came from Jesus ! I might with
equal propriety be required to hear and re-
ceive the lispings of infancy as the expressions
of wisdom. Creeds are to the Scriptures what
rush-lights are to the sun. The creed-maker
defines Jesus in half a dozen lines, perhaps in
metaphysical terms, and calls me to assent to
this account of my Saviour. I learn less of
Christ by this process than I should learn of
the sun by htxng told that this glorious lumi-
nary is a circle about a foot in diameter.
There is but one way of knowing Christ. We
must place ourselves near him, see him, hear
him. follow him from his cross to the heavens,
sympathize with him and obey him, and thus
catch clear and bright glimpses of his divine
glory.

Christian Truth is Infinite. Who can think
of shutting it up in a few lines of an abstract
creed ? You might as well compress the
boundless atmosphere, the fire, the all-per-
vading light, the free winds of the universe,
into separate parcels, and weigh and label



Digitized by VjOOQIC



394



ON CREEDS,



them, as break up Christianity into a few pro-
positions. Christianity is freer, more illimi-
table, than the light or the winds. It is too
mighty to be bound down by man's puny
hands. It is a spirit rather than a rigid
doctrine, the spirit of boundless love. TTie
Infinite cannot be defined and measured out
like a human manufacture. It cannot be
reduced to a system. It cannot be compre-
hended in a set of precise ideas. It is to be
felt rather than described. The spiritual im-
pressions which a true Christian receives from
the character and teachings of Christ, and
in which the chief efficacy of the religion lies,
can be poorly brought out in words. Words
are but brief, rude hints of a Christian's
mind. His thoughts and feelings overflow
them. To those who feel as he does, he can
make himself known ; for such can under-
stand the tones of the heart ; but he can no
more lay down his religion in a series of
abstract propositions, than he can make
known in a few vague terms the expressive
features and inmost soul of a much-loved
friend. It has been the fault of all sects that
they have been too anxious to define their
religion. Tliey have laljoured to circum-
scribe the infinite. Christianity, as it exists
in the mind of the true disciple, is not made
up of fragments, of separate ideas which
he can express in detached propositions.
It is a vast and ever-unfolding whole, per-
vaded by one spirit, each precept and doc-
trine deriving its vitality from its union with
all. When I see this generous, heavenly
doctrine compressed and cramped in human
creeds, I feel as I should were I to see screws
and chains applied to the countenance and
limbs of a noble fellow-creature, deforming
and destroying one of the most beautiful
works of God.

From the Infinity of Christian truth, of
which I have spoken, it follows that our
views of it must always be very imperfect,
and ought to be continually enlarged. The
wisest theologians are children who have
caught but faint glimpses of the religion;
who have taken but their first lessons; and
whose business it is "to grow in the know-
ledge of Jesus Christ." Need 1 say how
hostile to this growth is a fixed creed, beyond
which we must never wander ? Such a reli-
gion as Christ's demands the highest possible
activity and freedom of the soul. Every new
gleam of light should be welcomed with joy.
Every hint should be followed out with eager-
ness. Every whisper of the di\ine voice in
the soul should be heard. The love of Chris-
tian truth should be so intense as to make us
willing to part with all other things for a
l:)etter comprehension of it. Who does not
sec that human creeds, setting bounds to
thought, and telling us where all inquiry must



stop, tend to repress this holy zeal, to shut
our eyes on new illumination, to hem us
within the beaten paths of man's construction,
to arrest that perpetual progress which is the
life and glory of an immortal mind ?

It is another and great objection to creeds
that, wherever they acquire authority, they
interfere with that simplicity and godly sin-
cerity on which the efficacy of religious
teaching very much depends. That a minis-
ter should speak with power, it is important
that he should speak from his own soul, and
not studiously conform himself to modes of
speaking which others have adopted. It is
important that he should give out the truth in
the very form in which it presents itself to his
mind, in the very words which offer themselves
spontaneously as the clothing of his thoughts.
To express our own minds frankly, directly,
fearlessly, is the way to reach other minds.
Now, it is the effect of creeds to check this
free utterance of thought. The minister must
seek words which will not clash with the con-
secrated articles of his church. If new ideas
spring up in his mind, not altogether con-
sonant with what the creed-monger has estab-
lished, he must cover them with misty lan-
gua.^e. If he happen to doubt the standard
of his church, he must strain its phraseology,
must force it beyond its obvious import, that
he mav give his assent to it without depar-
tures from truth. All these processes must
have a blighting effect on the mind and
heart. They impair self-respect. They cloud
the intellectual eye. They accustom men to
tamper with truth. In proportion as a man
dilutes his thought and suppresses his con-
viction, to save his orthodoxy from suspicion ;
in proportion as he borrows his words from
others, instead of speaking in his own tongue ;
in proportion as he distorts language from its
common use, that he may stand well with his
party ; in that proportion he clduds and de-
grades his intellect, as well as undermines the
manliness and integrity of his character. How
deeply do I commiserate the minister who,
in the warmth and freshness of youth, is
visited with glimpses of higher troth th«i is
embodied in the creed, but who dares not be
just to himself, and is made to echo what is
not the simple, natural expression of his own
mind I Better were it for us to beg our bread
and clothe ourselves in rags, than to part
with Christian simplicity and frankness.
Better for a minister to preach in boms or
the open air. where he may speak the truth
from the fulness of his soul, than to lift up
in cathedrals, amidst pomp and wealth, a
voice which is not true to his inward thoughts.
If they who wear the chains of creeds once
knew the happiness of breathing the air of
freedom, and of moving with an unincum-
bered spirit, no wealth or power in -the worlds



Digitized by VaOOQlC



ON CREEDS.



395



gift would bribe tliem to part with their spi-
ritual liberty.

Another sad effect of creeds is, that they
favour unbelief. It is not the object of a
creed to express the simple truths of our reli-
gion, though in these its efficiency chiefly lies,
but to embody and decree those mysteries
about which Christians liave been contending.
I use the word "mysteries," not in the Scrip-
tural but popular sense, as meaning doctrines
which give a shock to the reason, and seem
to contradict some acknowledged truth. Such
mysteries are the staples of creeds. The
celestial virtues of Christ's character, these
are not inserted into articles of faith. On the
contrary, doctrines which from their darkness
or unintelligibleness have provoked contro-
versy, and which owe their importance very
much to the circumstance of having been
fought for or fought against for ages, these
are thrown bv the creed-makers into the fore-
most ranks oi the religion, and made its espe-
cial representatives. Christianity as set forth
in creeds is a propounder of dark sayings,
of riddles, of knotty propositions, of apparent
contradictions. WTio, on reading these stan-
dards, would catch a glimpse of the simple,
pure, benevolent, practical character of Chris-
tianity? And what is the result? Christianitv
becoming identified, by means of creeds, with
so many dark doctrines, b looked on by
many as a subject for theologians to quartel
about, but too thorny or perplexed for com-
mon minds, while it is spumed by many more
as an insult on human reason, as a triumph
of fanaticism over common sense.

It b a little remarkable that most creeds,
^ilst they abound in mysteries of human
creation, have renounced the great mystery of
religion. There b in rehgion a great mystery.



I refer to the doctrine of free-will, or moral
liberty. How to reconcile this with God's
foreknowledge, and human dependence, is a
question which has perplexed the greatest
minds. It is probable that much of the ob-
scurity arises from otu- applying to God the
same kind of foreknowledge as men possess
by their acquaintance with causes, and from
our supposing the Supreme Being to bear the
same relation to time as man. It is probable
that juster views on these subjects will relieve
the freedom of the will from some of its diffi-
culties. Still tte difficulties attending it are
great. It b a mystery in the popular sense of
the word. Now, b it not strange that theo-
logians, who have made and swallowed so
many other mysteries, have generally rejected
this, and rejected it on the ground of objec-
tions less formidable than those which may be
urged against their own inventions ? A large
part of the Protestant world have sacrificed
man's freedom of will to God's foreknowledge
and sovereignty, thus virtually subverting all
religion, all ciuty, all responsibiUty. 'They
have made man a machine, and destroyed
the great distinction between him and the
brute. There seems a fatality attending creeds.
After burdening Chrbtianity with mysteries of
which it b as innocent as the unborn child,
they have generally renounced the real mys-
tery of reUgion, of human nature. They have
subverted the foundation of moral govern-
ment, by taking from man the only capacity
which makes him responsible, and in this way
have fixed on the commands and threatenings
of God the character of a cruel despotbra.
What a lesson against man's attempting to
impose hb wbdom on hb fellow-creatures as
the truth of God I



THE DUTIES OF CHILDREN:

Discourse delivered to tfte Religious Society in Federal Street,

Boston.



EWTESIANS vi. X. a: "Children, obey your parents in
the Ijvrd, for tW» » rfjht. Honour thy father and thy
amJu3', which is the first commandnient with promise."

FftOM these words I propose to point out the
duties of children to their parents. My young
friends, let me ask your serious attentipn. I
wish to explain to you the honour- and obe-
OicDce which you are required to render your
parents ; and' to impress you with the im-
portance, excellence, and happiness of thb
temper and conduct.

It will be observed, in the progress of this



dbcourse, that I have chiefly in view the
youngest part of my hearers; but I would
not on thb accoimt be supposed to intimate
that those who have reached more advanced
periods of life are exempted from the obli-
gation of honouring their parents. However
old we may be, we should never forget that
tenderness which watched over our infancy,
which listened to our cries before we could
articulate our wants, and was never weary
with ministering to our comfort and enjoy-
ments. There b. scarcely anything more in-



Digitized by V300QIC



39^



THE DUTIES OF CHILDREN,



teresting than to see the man retaining the and inferiority which suit your age. Vou are
respect and gratitude which belong to the young, and you should therefore take the
chtld ; than to see persons, who have come lowest place, and rather retire than thrust
forward into life, remembering with affection yourselves forward into notice. You have
the guides and friends of their youth, and much to learn, and you should therefore hear
labouring by their kind and respectful atten- instead of seeking to be heard. You are
tion to cheer the declining years, and support dependent, and you should therefore ask in-
the trembhng infirmities, of those whose best stead oi demanding what you desire; and you
days were spent in solicitude and exertion for should receive everything from your parents
their happiness and improvement. He who as a favour and not as a debt. I do not mean
suffers any objects or pursuits to shut out a to urge upon you a slavish fear of your
parent from his heart, who becomes so weaned parents. Love them, and love them ardently ;
from the breast which nourished and the arms out mingle a sense of their superiority with
which cherished him, as coldly to forsake a your love. Feel a confidence in their kind-
parent's dwelling, and neglect a parent's com- ness ; but let not this confidence make you
fort, not only renoxmces the dictates of reli- rude and presumptuous, and lead to indecent
jjion and morality, but deserves to be cast out familiarity. Talk to them with openness and
from society as a stranger to the comm«n freedom; but never contradict with violence;
sensibilities of human nature. never answer with passion or contempt

In the observations I am now to make, all The Scriptures say, "Cursed be he that

who have parents should feel an interest ; for sctteth light by his father or his mother."

some remarks will apply to all. But I shall " The eye that mocketh at his father, the

principally confine myself to those who are ravens of the valley shall pluck it out, ar4d

so young as to depend on the care and to hve the young ravens shall eat it." The sacred

under the eye of their parents ; who surround history teaches us that when Solomon on

a parent's table, dwell beneath a parent's roof, his throne saw his mother approaching him.



and hear continually a parent's voice. To
such the text addresses itself, " Honour and
obey your father and mother."

1 shall now attempt to explain and enforce
what is here required of you.

First, you are required to view and treat
your parents with respect. Your tender, in-



he rose to meet her, and bowed himself unto
her, and caused a seat to be set for her on
his right hand. Let this wise and great king
teach you to respect your parents.

Secondly, You should be grateful to your
parents. Consider how much you owe them.
The time has been, and it was not a long time



experienced age requires that you think of past, when you depended wholly on their

yourselves with humility, and conduct your- kindness, when you had no strength to make

selves with modesty; that you respect the a single effort for yourselves, when you could

superior age and wisdom and improvements neither speak nor walk, and knew not the use

of your parents, and observe towards them of any of your powers. Had not a parent's

a submissive deportment. Nothing is more arm supported you, you must have fallen to the

unbecoming in you, nothing will render you earth and perished. Observe with attention

more unpleasant in the eyes of others, than the infants which you so often see, and con-

froward or contemptuous conduct towards sider that a little while ago you were as feeble

your parents. There are children — and I as they are ; you were only a burden and a

wish I could say there are only a few — ^who care, and you had nothing with which you

speak to their parents with rudeness, grow could repay your parents' Section. But did

sullen at their rebukes, behave in their pre- they forsake you ? How many sleepless

sence as if they deserved no attention, hear nights have they been disturbed by your

them speak without noticing them, and cries 1 When you were sick, how tenderly

rather ridicule than honour them. There are did they hang over you 1 With what pleasure

many children at the present day who think have they seen you grow up in health to your

more highly of themselves than of their present state ! and what do you now possess

elders ; who think that their own wishes are which you have not received from their

first to be gratified ; who abuse the condescen- han'ds? God indeed is your great parent,

sion and kindness of their parents, and treat your best friend, and from Him every good gift

them as servants rather than superiors. descends; but God is pleased to bestow every-

Beware, my young friends, lest you grow thing upon you throu^ the kindness of your

up with this assuming and selfish spirit, parents. To your parents you owe evay

Regard your parents as kindly given you by comfort; you owe to them the shelter yoa

God, to support, direct, and govern you in enjoy from the rain and cold, the raiment

your present state of weakness and inexpe- which covers and the food which nourishes

rience. Express your respect for them in you. While you are seeking amusenoent, or

your manner and conversation. Do not are employed in gaining knowledge at schooU

neglect those outward signs of dependence your parents are toiling that you rwy \»



Digitized by VaOOQlC



mE DUTIES OF CHILDREN,



397



h&pt>y, that your wants be supplied, that
your minds may be improved, that you may
grow up and be useful in the world. And
when you consider how often you have for-
feited all this kindness, and yet how ready
they have been to forgive you, and to con-
tinue their favours, ought you not to look
upon them with the tenderest gratitude ?
What greater monster can there be than an
unthankful child, whose heart is never warmed
and melted by the daily expressions of pa-
rental solicitude; who, instead of requiting
his best friend by his affectionate conduct, is
suUen and passionate, and thinks that his
parents have done nothing for him, because
they will not do all he desires? My young
friends, your parents' hearts have ached
enough for you already; you should strive
from this time, by your expressions of grati-
tude and love, to requite their goodness.
Do you ask how you may best express these
feelings of respect and gratitude which have
been enjoined ? In answer, I would observe.
Thirdly, That you must make it your study
to obey your parents, to do what they com-
mand, and do it cheerfully. Your own hearts
will tell you that this is a most natural and
proper expression of honour and love. For
now often do we see children opposing their
wills to the will of their parents ; refusing to
comply with absolute commands ; growing
more obstinate the more they are required to
do what they dislike; and at last sullenly and
unwillingly obeying, because they can no
longer refuse without exposing themselves
to punishment. Consider, my young friends,
that by such conduct you very much displease
God, who has given you parents that they
may control your passions and train you up
in the way you should go. Consider how
much better they can decide for you than
you can for yourselves. You know but little
of the world in which you live. You hastily
catch at everything which promises you plea-
sure ; and tinless the authority of a parent
should restrain you, you would soon rush into
ruin, without a thought or a fear. In pur-
suing your own inclinations, your he»^th
would be destroyed, your minds would run
waste, you would grow up slothful, selfish,
a trouble to others, and burdensome to your-
selves. Submit, then, cheerfully to your
parents. Have you not experienced tfheir
goodness long enough to know that they wish
to make you happy, even when their cona-
mands are most severe? Prove, then, your
sense of their goodness by doing cheerfully
what they require. When they oppose your
wishes, do not think that you tuive more
knowledge than they. Do not receive their
commands with a sour, angry, sullen look,
which says louder than words, that you obey
only because you dare not rebel. If they



deny your requests, do tlot persist in urging
them, but consider how many requests they
have already granted you. Consider that
you have no claim upon them, and that it
will be base and ungrateful for you, after all
their tenderness, to murmur and complain.
Do not expect that your parents are to give
up everything to your wishes, but study to
give up everything to theirs. Do not wait
for them to threaten, but, when a look tells
you what they want, fly to perform it. This
IS the way in which you can best reward them
for all their pains and labours. In this way
you will make their houses pleasant and cheer-
ful. But if you are disobedient, perverse,
and stubborn, you will be uneasy yourselves,
and will make all around you unhappy. You
will make home a place of contention, noise,
and anger; and your best friends will have
reason to wish that you had never been bom.
A disobedient child almost always grows up
ill-natured and disobliging to all with whom
he is connected. None love him, and he has
no heart to love any but himself. If you
would be amiable in your temper and manner,
and desire to be beloved, let me advise you
to begin life with giving up your wills to your
parents.

Fourthly, You must further express your
respect, affection, and gratitude, by doing all
in your power to assist and oblige your
parents. Children can very soon make some
return for the kindness they receive. Every
day you can render your parents some little
service, and often save them many cares, and
sometimes not a little expense. There have
been children who in early life have been
great supports to their sick, poor, and help-
less parents. This is the most honomiible
way in which you can be employed. You
must never think too highly of yourselves to
be unwilling to do anything for those who
have done so much for you. You should
never let your amusements take such a hold
of your minds as to make you slothful, back-
ward, and unwilling, when you are called to
serve your parents. Some children seem to
think that they have nothing to seek but
their own pleasure. They will run from
every task which is imposed on them, and
leave their parents to want many comforts
rather than expKwe themselves to a little
trouble. But consider, had they loved you
no better than you loved them, how wretched
would have been your state 1 There are some
children who not only refuse to exert them-
selves for their parents, but add very much
to their cares, give them tmnecessary trouble,
and, by carelessness, by wasting, by extrava-
gance, help to keep them in poverty and toil.
Such children, as they grow up, instead o1
seeking to provide for themselves, generall>
grow more and more burdensome to theii



Digitized by V^OOQIC



398



THE DUTIES OP CHILDREN,



friends, and lead useless, sluggish, and often
profligate lives. My young friends, you
should be ashamed, after having given your
parents so much pain, to multiply their cares
and labours unnecessarily. You should learn
very early to be active in pleasing them, and
active in doing what you can for yourselves.
Do not waste all your spirit upon play but
learn to be useful. Perhap the time is
coming when yoiu parents will need as much
attention from you as you have received from
them ; and you should endeavour to form
such industrious,, obliging habits, that you
may render their last years as happy as they
have rendered the first years of your exis-
tence.

Fifthly, You should express your respect
for your parents, and your sense of their
kindness and superior wisdom, by placing
unreserved confidence in them. This is a
very important part of your duty. Children
should learn to be honest, sincere, and open-
hearted to their parents. An artful, hyp>o-



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 86 of 169)