Thursday, May 21, 2009

not merely toleration (liberal Christianity II)...

James Freeman Clarke on the Apostle Paul, liberty, Liberal Christianity, sectarianism, the transient and permanent, and the only enduring

"Paul's liberality, therefore, was not merely toleration; he not only allowed people to be free, and to be themselves, but he insisted that they must be free — must be themselves. Freedom, to him, was a vital thing; a real step onward.

Most men who contend for Christian liberty mean thereby liberty for themselves and their own party to believe or disbelieve certain doctrines; to adopt or reject certain practices. But sometimes we find a man like the apostle Paul, like John Milton, like Jeremy Taylor, like William Ellery Charming, who believes in freedom as a principle, not for the sake of his own particular interest; and this spirit alone deserves to be called Liberal Christianity.

This nobler kind of liberality can rest only on a deep spiritual faith. A man must see spiritual truth so clearly as to be able to separate it from the form and words in which it comes. He must be able to distinguish the things seen, which are temporal, from the things not seen, which are eternal. This power Paul had in the highest degree. It is remarkable that he, the theologian par excellence, the leader in Christian theology, the first who brought out distinctly a system of Christian doctrine, should be the man to declare that all such systems are transient; that we can know only in part, and that when the perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. It is he who says that all intellectual convictions, all kinds of knowledge are to disappear, all creeds and all beliefs come to an end; " whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." And it is not John, the mystic, the one who preaches always love, love, love, as Demosthenes taught action, action, action, — it is not John who chants that magnificent strain of adorable music to charity or love, but Paul, the theologian. He it was, who having thought so much, and studied so much, and said words of wisdom which will never die while the world lasts, laid them all down at the feet of Love, and said, " Love never faileth.

I say, therefore, that he was the founder of Liberal Christianity, because he was not only willing that men should be free, but ready to help them to become so; because he believed in liberty as a principle, and told men to "stand fast" in it, and not "be subject to any yoke of bondage;" because he saw that the essence of religion was inward and not outward, in the spirit and not the letter; because he saw that all forms, beliefs, knowledge, were transient and would pass away, but that faith, hope, and love would endure. Bigotry, intolerance, sectarianism, have never had, after Christ himself, so deadly a foe in the world as the apostle Paul."



Bill Baar said...

How do you square Paul's Liberty with Paul's pride in Roman \ Tarsian citzenship?

My Minister by the way is fond of saying Paul get this wrong often... and when she does it always conjures up an image in my mind of her arguing with Tony Hopkins in the movie Peter and Paul

Yewtree said...

Paul was still an evangelist (and possibly a proselytizer) and a standardizer of doctrine and behaviour, which makes him an enemy of freedom, in my opinion.

Also I think you mean William Ellery Channing, not Charming (though he may well have been charming...)

Bill Baar said...

A doctrine and behaviour of Freedom is the Liberal's conundrum.

slt said...

Many thanks for the comments!
I think that without question as much as Paul's "enemies" have emphasized certain negative aspects of his thought, JFC emphasizes the positive. Also in this book is a wonderful discussion of the internal struggle that Paul lived with...worth reading.(I am going to watch Peter and Paul and am looking forward to it)
I also don't think that JFC's take on Paul is particularly partisan. It all gets down to "love to God and love to people" and is not dependent on a particular political slant.
As far as William Ellery Charming goes...well that is a function of cutting and pasting from Google Books. I was going to correct it but its too good!
Thanks again to both and
Many blessings, BU