"The Perfect Life" continues, and in a way begins, with the subject of today's sermon. Dependence is not any easy topic for Unitarians (or anyone else) but it is crucial for Channing. And yet, as he discusses in this excerpt, the tension between "moral dependence and moral freedom" has long been a point of controversy.
"LIFE A DIVINE GIFT.
1 Corinthians "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God."
NO truth is more fitted to touch our hearts than the doctrine of our entire Dependence upon God as the Giver of Life. It sets before us a Goodness, from which countless blessings incessantly proceed, and a Power that can instantly withhold them. It implies the most tender and intimate relationship between ourselves and the Greatest of Beings. It impresses on every good of existence the character of a Gift. It awakens us to habitual thankfulness. It rebukes the hard heart, that lives unmindful of the all-sustaining Father. It utters remonstrance and warning against contempt of His gracious laws...And it summons us to cherish a devoted love for our Divine Benefactor, more ardent, and more constant, than to any other friend.
This conviction of our Dependence, though so important, does not spring up spontaneously and fix itself without effort in the mind. God does not intend that we shall come to Him by compulsion. We must watch over pious impressions, and cultivate them, or they will never become vigorous and enduring...
My friends, how can I aid you in deepening this sense of Dependence ? Let me enumerate a few of our best known blessings, to show the witness which they bear to a Higher Power than our own, for ever sustaining us [WEC continues with discussions on health, property, intellect and, finally, ...]
IV.—Next I propose to show that we depend on the Divine Being for Moral and Religious Power, and that the very Spiritual Energy, whereby we grow in personal goodness, is God's Gift. This view of our dependence is incomparably the most important for us constantly to cherish. And yet this conception of the intimate relationship between our own Will and the Will of our Heavenly Father is encompassed with peculiar difficulties...
How then, it may be asked, is man dependent on God for his virtue ? Why is he to seek it from God, if the Power of securing it is lodged in his own breast? The difficulty is one which has often been felt. The apparent incompatibility of man's Moral Dependence with the Moral Freedom necessary to constitute him an accountable agent has led different sects to give up one or the other of these seemingly contradictory elements. Not a few Christians, in their anxiety to assert human Dependence, and to declare piety and virtue to be gifts of God's Grace, do in effect deny Personal Power. They teach that men are utterly weak, and speak of religion as a life infused by the irresistible agency of the Holy Spirit. The just inference from this would be, that religion has no more moral worth than a fair face or a large estate, or any other providential favour. And when, instead of drawing such an inference, the teachers of this doctrine proceed to threaten with the fires of everlasting torment unfortunate beings who are not visited by Almighty Grace, they utter a doctrine against which reason and conscience protest as outraging alike the Equity and Mercy of God. There are other Christians, who, to save human accountableness, and to give man a right feeling of Power, have banished from sight his Dependence, or at least have not urged it in the strong language used in the Scriptures, and by Saints in all ages, so as to make it the foundation of solemn duties. In this way immense spiritual injury has been done. For, as I apprehend the laws of life, without a deep sense of our Dependence upon the All-Good for virtue and piety, no great improvement in either can be made..."