Friday, January 2, 2009

On Keeping the Promises We Make to Ourselves

So how is the New Year's Resolution going? I have firmly come to believe that making resolutions is a religious act-religion is a framework for putting our deepest and highest impulses "to work" and what else are resolutions?
The Apostle Paul (in his letter to the Philippians) puts it thus: "Not that already perfect, but I press on to make it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal..."
This morning's devotions also included a sermon by the Unitarian minister, theologian, and Harvard President, James Walker (1794-1874)
Walker was a founder of the AUA and editor of the Christian Examiner. Minister of the Harvard Church in Charlestown, MA for many years, he became President of Harvard in 1853. Andrew Preston Peabody said of him,
"Dr. Walker’s great work in college, both as Professor and as President, was his preaching. His sermons were unsurpassed in directness and impressiveness. They were, for the most part, on those great truths and laws of religion, Christianity and moral right, which are generally admitted to be undeniable, and therefore as generally ignored. He had the rare faculty of making his hearers feel as if these eternal verities were a fresh revelation. "
True enough! This morning's sermon was, appropriately for the season, On Keeping the Promises We Make to Ourselves Some exerpts:

"a large portion of the most solemn promises which we make consists of those which we make to ourselves ; and my object in the present discourse will be to set forth our duty in respect to this class of promises, — the promises which we make to ourselves...Nobody will deny that they are made, for the most part, in good faith, and with a serious purpose of fulfilling them ; that they are entered into in our best moods, that they are the dictates of our best judgment, and that it would be best for us on every account to keep them. Yet the readiness and frequency with which they are broken has become a proverb.
When... in a moral and religious view of our responsibilities, we promise ourselves to fulfil a particular duty, it appears to me that this promise is of the nature of a bond on the soul. It is an engagement voluntarily entered into, in a fair and full view of the circumstances ; and there is also a witness, or rather there are witnesses, to the engagement, — God and our own consciences,—to whom we are pledged for its fulfilment, and often under all the solemnities of a religious vow. Habit or custom may make it seem a light thing to trifle with such engagements ; but in morals it is not a light thing; in the sight of God it is not a light thing...if I solemnly promise myself that on a certain occasion, or at a certain time, I will do a particular thing, and fail to do it, I know and feel that I have broken my word. I know and feel that I cannot be relied on ; and, what is more and worse, that I cannot rely on myself.
Religion itself is not more exacting of us than we often are of ourselves. Were we to listen now to all the good resolutions we have at any time formed, all the clear, distinct, and solemn promises we have made to ourselves, we should find that nothing is required of us in the gospel, except to keep our own word. This wonderful consent and harmony between the Bible and the aspirations of the human soul in its best moods is, perhaps, to most minds the strongest, or at least the most convincing, evidence of the heavenly origin of both."

(The full text can be read at:



Kevin Holsapple said...

Your efforts on this blog are appreciated, far beyond the confines of the Unitarians, and the environs of Boston. Keep up the good work!

slt said...

That is very nice to hear! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and I wish you a blessed new year. BU