Thursday, July 9, 2009

inward, living, practical religion...

Preached at the Dedication of the Second Congregational Unitarian Church, New York, in 1826, the following sermon is William Ellery Channing's effort to explain, in the face of its often virulent detractors, how Unitarianism is conducive to a life of deep piety. Some excerpts from the introduction (to be continued...)


'And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, 0 Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment.'—Mark xii. 29, 30.

Unitarianism has been made a term of so much reproach, and has been uttered in so many tones of alarm, horror, indignation, and scorn, that to many it gives only a vague impression of something monstrous, impious, unutterably perilous. To such I would say, that this doctrine, which is considered by some as the last and most perfect invention of Satan, the consummation of his blasphemies, the most cunning weapon ever forged in the fires of hell, amounts to this,—That there is one God, even the Father; and that Jesus Christ is not this One God, but his son and messenger, who derived all his powers and glories from the Universal Parent, and who came into the world not to claim supreme homage for himself, but to carry up the soul to his Father as the Only Divine Person, the Only Ultimate Object of religious worship. To us, this doctrine seems not to have sprung from hell, but to have descended from the throne of God, and to invite and attract us thither...

We regard Unitarianism as peculiarly the friend of inward, living, practical religion. For this we value it—for this we would spread it; and we desire none to embrace it but such as shall seek and derive from it this celestial influence...

I shall have contributed no weak argument in support of the truth of our views; for the chief purpose of Christianity undoubtedly is to promote piety, to bring us to God, to fill our souls with that Great Being, to make us alive to Him ; and a religious system can carry no more authentic mark of a divine original, than its obvious, direct, and peculiar adaptation to quicken and raise the mind to its Creator. In speaking thus of Unitarian Christianity as promoting piety, I ought to observe that I use this word in its proper and highest sense. I mean not everything which bears the name of piety, for under this title superstition, fanaticism, and formality are walking abroad and claiming respect. I mean not an anxious frame of mind, not abject and slavish fear, not a dread of hell, not a repetition of forms, not church-going, not loud profession, not severe censure of others' irreligion; but filial love and reverence towards God, habitual gratitude, cheerful trust, ready obedience, and, though last, not least, an imitation of the ever-active and unbounded benevolence of the Creator."


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