Friday, December 19, 2008

Where is the heat?

I have an autograph collection consisting of one name, James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888). Famous for his five-fold definition of the Unitarian Faith, which became "creed-like" for some years:
1. The Fatherhood of God, 2. The Brotherhood of Man, 3. The Leadership of Jesus, 4. Salvation by Character, and 5. The Progress of Mankind, onward and upward forever, Clarke was a beloved minister, theologian, bridge builder between orthodoxy, Unitarianism, and Transcendentalism and much else. This blog will, God willing, have much, much more from Rev. Clarke.
I have acquired several of JFC's many books and though he was not an original thinker on the level of his friend Ralph Waldo, his was a catholic, generous, pastoral mind-one made for reconciliation and the love of God and man.
My morning's devotions began with the opening of Paul's Letter to the Philippians in which he prays prayers of thanksgiving for his partners in the Gospel, the Philippian church. Then to Clarke's "The Christian Doctrine of Prayer." After loaning out my first copy of this small gem some years ago never to be returned, I received a new (1856) copy yesterday.
Clarke begins, in his preface, with the old distinction between the prayer of faith and the prayer of form. He believed that with the coming of the age of reason and science, people ceased to believe in the prayer of faith and turned to a prayer of form designed to put the pray-er in a good state of mind. The result of this view of prayer and religion is that:

"We live at present in an age saturated with these ideas. We live in an age turned wholly outward, — an age of science, of steam, of rails, and of telegraphs, — an age of cheap postage, and of all sorts of devices to make our outward life comfortable and joyous. Many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased. The Christianity of the world bears good fruit in attempts to mitigate the horrors of barbarous customs, which come down unmitigated and unrelieved through the ages of faith, — slavery, and war, and popular ignorance, pauperism, intemperance, and manifold evils. Strong, wise, and good men do not now go on their knees and wrestle all night with God in prayer; but they sit up all night by their study-table, and marshal hosts of facts into such shape as shall convince mankind what a mountain of ills they labor under, and how they shall throw them off. Good men of to-day — the saints of our day — do not dream dreams, see visions, commune with angels, they are caught up into no third, nor even second heaven ; but they visit prisons and penitentiaries, they establish hospitals for the blind, deaf, lame, dumb, and insane, they labor to elevate public instruction, they struggle to make the laws more equitable. And for all these labors let us be thankful to God, for in them is surely to be found the Christian seed ; they are Christ-like works.
But the effect of these doctrines as regards prayer, we see all around in other forms, not so good as those. It appears in our empty churches; in young men and women deserting the house of God, where whole generations used to bend together in awe and love, the old man with white hair kneeling humbly by the little child with silky curls, — where they used to pray in earnest, and go away refreshed at heart and stronger for any work, happier for any joy. We see it in sermons changed to popular lectures,— no longer earnest arguments, appeals from dying men to dying men, hut rhetorical essays on some theme of philosophy, taste, politics, or social utility. We feel it, moreover, in the emptiness of our own hearts, in our secret consciousness that we are not acting out our highest nature, not living for the great end of our being, not growing into all that God desires and intends for us. We give ourselves to the world, though the world does not satisfy us. We labor to do good in some way to those about us, but we feel that, while we are ourselves empty of spiritual life, we can do them no real, no lasting good.
And look, too, at our philanthropic efforts. They are efforts, all of them, in the right direction. This age applies Christianity as Christ himself would have it applied, and as those ages of Faith and Prayer never applied it. I therefore am not looking for salvation in the past. I thank God for the immense advances we are making, and have made, in a true understanding of the Gospel. But with all this light, where is the heat ?... let our philanthropy be animated by a religion like theirs, — let us not merely say, " To work is to pray" but " Pray that we may work"

Amen and blessings

1 comment:

David G. Markham said...

Hi Boston Unitarian:

I have never heard of James Freeman Clarke and thank you very much for the introduction.

Universalists forgot how to pray when they decided we all are saved, for if we are saved already what is the point?

Galen Guengerich says the point is gratitude, but does gratitude generate much heat?

I think there has to be more to our UU faith than that. I think it needs to explain human suffering and address it.

Life is very hard at times to the point of the desire not to go on living. A deep religious faith needs to answer the question, "Why live?"

Human beings, it seems to me, are teleological at heart. They need to have a reason to live. Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life struck a deep chord in people who are hungry for purpose. Does UU give us that? If it did there would be more heat?

Thanks for you great post.

All the best,

David Markham