« PreviousContinue »
ances in use in this country, which is properly called Public Worship, benefits men. Useless in its relation to God, does it assist men better to fulfil any of the duties they owe each other, or assure them who, among their fellow-men, are most honest and worthy, soundest in mind, or firmest in principle?
It is plain that Public Worship neither does nor can fulfil the function. last mentioned, of enabling us to discriminate between good and bad men, by observing who practise it and who do not, because the external actions in which it consists can be, and are, performed as thoroughly by the hypocrite as the saint. While attendance on these observances remains as reputable as at present, bad men will of course use so cheap and easy a means of seeming to be good men. The audience at any particular church, on any particular occasion, will certainly be, as to character, a promiscuous audience, consisting of persons good, bad, and indifferent. The mere fact of a regular attendance at church, chapel, synagogue, or meeting-house, may be referable to so many and such various causes, that it gives no indication whatever of a man's real character. Practically, the rule which Jesus gave—" By their fruits ye shall know them "—will less frequently mislead us, in judging of the characters of men, than any other.
This fact then guides us to a correct answer to our third question—How may we best manifest to our fellow-men that we honor and reverence God?
We reply—First, and chiefly, by a life which shall show this to all who see us; by quietly regulating the business and pleasure, the labor, rest, and recreation of every day, in conformity to what we understand to be God's will: next, by frankly saying, when the doing of a wrong thing is proposed to ns by another person, whether that other person be wicked or weak, or merely thoughtless, "I cannot do it, because it seems to me to be wrong; because it is inconsistent with my idea of my duty to God:" and lastly, by being always ready, as Paul recommends, to give to every one who asks it a reason for our faith or our works.
Will not such a life publish to our world, large or small, suoh honor and reverence as we really feel for the Creator, quite as thoroughly and efficiently as conformity to the round of petty superstitions heretofore described? quite as thoroughly and efficiently as a "profession of religion" in the broad aisle of a church? (a declaration of your courage when there is no enemy in sight)—a ceremonial show of purification with water, as if you lived in the dispensation of types and shado m—a monthly ceremony of eating bread when you are not hungry, and drinking wine when yon are not thirsty, as if these could show or produce any excellence of character— and a weekly attendance on vicarious devotional performances, whether or not they express, or excite, your own "soul's sincere desire," and whether or not the sermon accompanying them is to your edification?
We propose, then, that the advantages legitimately belonging to an acknowledgment before men, of our faith in, and allegiance to our Heavenly Father, be secured in the most simple and natural manner: first, by a life so obviously in accordance with such faith and allegiance, as shall compel belief in it; and next, by making verbal profession of it in the very times when, and in the very places where, and to the very persons by whom such a declaration is especially needed; by an explicit statement on the spot, of our determination to obey the will of God, or the laws of duty, to whatever person shall venture to propose to us any thing implying that we forget or disregard those considerations.
Since Public Worship in our country is combined with preaching or instruction, we will guard, as far as may be, against misconstruction, by repeating, that we have here been speaking only of the former.
Every human being needs religious instruction, and it is highly important to the public welfare, that means should be provided for it to be given and received. But this could be done quite independently of the .present forms of Public Worship.
The intelligent reader will also notice, that we have neither expressed nor implied any objection to the idea or the practice of prayer—the communion of the individual soul with its Maker—such prayer as Jesus of Nazareth inculcated in the well-known saying, "When thon pray est, enter into thy closet and shut thy door." Every human being feels the need, some more, some less frequently, of entering into communication with God, and obtaining somewhat of Him; and it is an unspeakable blessing, that at all times, and in all places, he who feels this need may mentally address a present and loving Father, and know that his request is heard and heeded by Infinite Wisdom, Power and Goodness, who will certainly do for him either thus or letter. Both these points, the need of instruction, and the benefit of individual prayer, are taken for granted as obvious.
We will close with a single question to those young persons who, with sound principles and good purposes, have yet felt under a certain restraint in regard to the expression of them.
Pious language, or language exhibiting an habitual remembrance of, and regard to, our responsibility to God, has become (as we think, through its customary connection with the factitious and useless observances of which we have been speaking,) a damaged phraseology. It has been so long and so grossly abused, that its use is apt to suggest to our minds cant, rather than true reverence and sincere religious feeling, in him who uses it. This double perversion, first of the language of piety by those who commonly use it, and next of the sentiments which would naturally be called up by such language in the hearts of those who hear it, may fairly be laid to the charge of the popular or orthodox churches, whose pious talk stands so grossly in contrast with their lives. But we are not to acquiesce in this desecration of language, so natural and so needful as the language of allegiance and love to our Creator. God is our Father and our Friend, as well as our Master; and if we are sometimes called to vindicate our relation ot duty to Him, in the face of the worldling, we are no less authorized to declare our relation of love to Him, in the face of the churchling.
Of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum.
The.real advantages of an open expression of such honor, reverence, allegiance and love, as we really feel towards God, are not secured by the method at present in vogue, of periodically meeting in a public place to say that we feel those things; on the contrary, this method is attended by special disadvantages and evils:
The method which does secure these advantages, and which seems adapted to secure them in the best possible manner, is the expression of our feelings of honor, reverence, allegiance or love to God, by speech or by action, as the case requires, when and where such expression is naturally called for, In Connection With The Public And Private Business Of Every
DAY OF EVERY MAN'S LIFE.
Id the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends, 8ixtb month, 2d, the foregoing paper, from the pen of Charles K. Whipplk, of Boston, was read, eliciting many expressions of satisfaction. The Meeting heartily concurred in directing it to be published with its proceedings.
The True Church.—By his Church our Savior did not mean a party, bearing the name of a human leader, distinguished by a form or an opinion, and, on the ground of this distinction, denying the name or character of Christians to all but themselves. He means by it the body of his friends and followers, who truly imbibe his spirit, no matter by what name they are called, in what house they worship, by what peculiarities of mode and opinion they are distinguished, under what sky they live, or what language they speak. These are the true Church—men made better, made holy, virtuous, by his religion—men who, hoping in his promises, keep .his commandments.—William Ellery Channing.
PREACHED AT THE PENNSYLVANIA YEARLY MEETING OF PROGRESSIVE
Bi THEODORE PARKER,
THE PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPTION OF GOD
For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire.—Dkut. iv. 24.
Some years ago I spoke to you " Of the Relation between the Ecclesiastical Institutions and the Religions Consciousness of the American People." I am now here again to speak on great and kindred themes. You have no authoritative Scriptures; your Bible is the Universe, the World of Matter your Old Testament, the "World of Man the New. In both there are revelations every day, for that canon is not closed, nor ever will be. With the catholic spirit of Universal Religion one of your Clerks has just read from the Scriptures of the Chinese, the Hindoos, the Persians, the Mohammedans, the Hebrews, and the Christians. There is one Material Nature about us all, one Human Nature in us all, one Divine Nature, one Infinite God above us all, immanent in each, and equally near to the Buddhist and the Christian, equally loving to all. He is no respecter of sects more than of persons. I wish to speak of the notions men have of God, and of the effect thereof. So, if your business allow and your patience will endure so much, I will preach four Sermons:
I. Of The Progressive Development Of The Conception Of God In The Books Of The Bible.
II. Of The Ecclesiastical Conception Of God, And Its Relation To The Scientific And Religious Wants Of This Age.
III. Of The Natural Or Philosophical Idea Of God, And Its ReLation To The Scientific And Religious Wants Of The Age.
IV. Op The Soto's Normal Dklight In The Infinite God.
These are all great themes, of interest to mankind—not least, I think, to Progressive Friends.
This morning I ask yonr attention to some Thoughts on the Progressive Development of the Conception of God in the various Books of the Bible.
In the human race nothing is.ever still; the stream of humanity rolls continually forward, change following change; nation succeeds to nation, theology to theology, thought to thought. Taken as a whole, this change is a Progress, an ascent from the lower and ruder to the higher and more comprehensive. Individuals die, special families pass off, nations go under; and a whole race, like the American Indians, may perish, and their very blood be dried up from the ground; yet still mankind survives, and all the material or spiritual good achieved by any race, nation, family, individual, reverts at last to mankind, who not only has eminent domain over the earth, but is likewise heir at history of Moses, of the Heraclides, of Egypt, and of the American Indians. So of much that slips out from the decaying hand of the individual or the race, nothing is ever lost to humanity; much is outgrown, nought wasted. The milk-teeth of the baby are as necessary as the meat-teeth, the biters and grinders of the adult man. Little Ikie Newton had a top and a hoop; spinning and trundling were as needful to the boy as mathematical rules of calculation to the great and worldrenowned Sir Isaac. The Progress of Mankind is continuous and onward, as much subject to a natural law of development as our growth from babyhood to adult life.
You see this change and progress in all departments of human activity, in Religion and Theology, as distinct as in spinning and weaving. Theological ideas are instruments for making character, as carpenters' tools for making houses. Take the long sweep of four thousand years that history runs over, and the improvement in theological ideas is as remarkable as the change in carpenters' tools. You see this progress especially in the Conception of God, and in the Worship that is paid to him conformable to that conception. Here the change is continuous, and the progress is full of encouragement for the future.
What unlikeness in the conceptions of God which Christian men have to-day! The notion of God set forth in certain churches differs from yours and mine more than Moloch differs from Jehovah. Certainly the God which some ministers scare their congregations withal, is to me only a Devil—a Devil who has no existence, and never appears out of the theological graveyard, where this ghost of buried superstitions " walks" from time to time to frighten men into the momentary panic of a revival.
The Bible has become the Sacred Book of all Christendom. It is not only valued for its worth, which is certainly very great, but still more for its fancied authority—because it is thought to be a Bevelation, made di