Thursday, May 28, 2009

the dark side...

We continue this morning with Rev. on this life as probation. A foundational theme in orthodoxy, the idea that our present life is one of preparation for the one to come was still quite common with the earlier Boston Unitarians.

This from his sermon, "The Disappointments and Uncertainties of Life."

"But is there then nothing permanent on earth ? My friends, I know of nothing in the universe permanent, but God. God is from everlasting to everlasting, and no man is secure but he who loves God, and is loved by him. Can you for a moment think, that this precariousness is too great, when you see how confidently and immoderately attached so many yet are to these transitory possessions, and to a delusion, yet existing and increasing, which all these admonitions cannot cure ? Can you think this uncertainty too great, when you see how proud men are of their short-lived acquisitions, how vain of their precarious accomplishments, how envious of another's flourishing wealth, how discontented with their lot, how unprepared for changes and reverses, how much afraid to die ? Is it for us to complain of the condition of our existence, when it has yet taught us so little confidence in God, the only rock of trust; when we have yet to learn that there is but one possession which is eternal, and that is virtue ; one source of happiness which disappointment and death cannot reach, and that is the favor of God ?

Do you say, that the picture which we have given of human life, so full of disappointment and uncertainty, is too discouraging ? True, my friends, it may be the dark side, but it is not therefore the less true, and it may be of great use occasionally to contemplate it...

There remains, therefore, but one answer to our question, which is, that ours is a state of probation. By this we mean that it is a state of trial and discipline, preparatory to something further; a state in which moral agents are to be formed to active and passive virtue, and in which moral qualities are to be produced, exercised, and matured, with a view to some future condition. This account of human life, is the only one which can be reconciled with the appearances of the world ; the only one which either answers or silences the captious and curious inquiries, which are perpetually recurring to the mind of man, with relation to the government and goodness of God. For when it is once understood, that the present is only a great theatre of preparation or of trial, it is folly to ask Why was there not less uncertainty and disappointment, because it is just as easy and rational to ask, Why was there not more ? If you assert that less would have been sufficient to answer every purpose of probation and moral discipline, I may ask, How much less? And why may not beings placed in a condition less probationary than ours, inquire with equal reason, Why were we not created more provident, more secure, more perfect, and more exalted ?"



David G. Markham said...

Hi BU:

The Rev. Buckminster seems very other worldly to me. He is an ascetic that has little use for the joys of this world but seems to be focused on the next more than the present. Is this a Calvanist influence?

I think he has some good points, but they seem over stated to me. He does not appear to be a happy or greatful man, but someone who is looking foward to heaven more than to his life on earth.

Maybe I mis understand him.

I appreciate you allowing this study of his work.

All the best,

David Markham

The Eclectic Cleric said...

There are at least three ideas here in Buckminster's discussion of the doctrine of probation which are going to strike 21st century liberal ears as a little dysphoneous. The first has to do with the closeness of death, which contributes profoundly to an understanding of the contingent and transitory nature of life. Death was ALWAYS close at hand in Buckminster's day: high infant mortality, plus the dangers of childbirth itself; poor nutrition; widespread disease; no get the picture. People likewise typically were cared for by their families and died at home, rather than disappearing into the medical care system as they do today. The second very important idea has to do with the Fatherhood of God vis-a-vis humanity's experience as children of God, brothers and sisters to one another, here on earth to cultivate our "character" and thus become worthy of the love God gives us freely. But God's love is also sometimes "tough love," which is the source of the doctrine of probation to begin with. And yes, finally, the belief in the immortality of the soul, and of "a future state of rewards and punishments" would have been taken for granted. But despite being Biblical (as are all these early Unitarian ideas),"Probation" itself is hardly "Orthodox" -- orthodox Calvinists believe in unconditional election and a limited (substitutionary) atonement, whereas the Unitarians would have almost universally embraced an "exemplary" view of the atoning power/inspiration of Christ's crucifixion, in much the same way that Socrates exemplified the same values and faithfulness in his death.