Tuesday, October 28, 2008
What we are to seek...
My copy of Henry Ware's Formation of the Christian Character: Addressed to Those Who Are Seeking to Lead a Religious Life is a later edition (1866) and is a discard from the Bowdoin College Library. Like most of my old Unitarian books, it came from Alibris (http://www.alibris.com/.) It is wonderful to hold a book that, I imagine, was held by students for decades as they did research or just sought inspiration and wisdom for living a more meaningful life. Bound together with its sequel, Progress of the Christian Life, and published by the American Unitarian Association, this little volume resides by my favorite chair with Bible and current reading.
In the Introduction (see post on October 25th) Ware lays out his intention to speak to "those who are sincerely desirous of knowing themselves, and are bent upon forming a religious character. " This morning, in Chapter 1, "The Nature of Religion and What We Are To Seek" he commences to determine just what that means. Some exerpts:
"Let us begin, then, with considering what is the object at which we aim when we seek a religious character...Religion with us, is the Christian religion. It is found in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ...You desire to be a Christian. To this are requisite three things: belief in the truths which the gospel reveals: possession of the state of mind which it enjoins; and performance of the duties which it requires: or, I may say, the subjection of the mind by faith, the subjection of the heart by love, the subjection of the will by obedience. This universal submission of yourself to god is what you are to aim at. This is Religion...Observe how extensive a thing it is. It is a principle of the mind...It is a sentiment or affection of the heart...It is a rule of life...
In the general complexion of Scripture, and in many particular passages, these several views are united: thus we are told, that 'the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;' that the blessing of God belongs to the humble, penitent, meek, pure in heart, merciful, and peaceful; that the Christian character consists in 'whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report;' in adding to 'faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;' and 'in denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly.'
Sounds easy enough! Ware wrote his manual in 1831 and by the time the edition that I have was published, the AUA was already starting to splinter over the place, nature, and role of Jesus and Christianity in the denomination. Emerson gave his Divinity School Address in 1838 and Ware would famously rebut it with his "The Personality of the Deity"the same year, but the tide was (for better and for worse) with Emerson.
I read (and post) Ware not to fight those battles, but to celebrate a religion of the mind, heart, and life. If your scripture is other than the Bible and your Teacher other than Jesus, Ware's message of "universal submission" and the "extensivness" of the religious life, as well as its great rewards will, I hope, still ring true.