Friday, June 12, 2009

the root and the branch...

A powerful post from Peacebang yesterday. As a longtime teacher and a onetime worker in politics, I long looked to education and government as the cure for our ills and, of course compassionate government and enlightened education can and have done much. But, ultimately, for me it comes down to acceptance of our limitations and, most importantly, faith. To quote Peacebang, "Reverence, mystery, humility, service and love are the antidote."
One more from Ezra Stiles Gannett-this from sermons delineating what Unitarians believe (its not a new exercise...)


We are told that we care very little about faith. " Unitarians," it is said, " talk about goodness; hope to be saved by their own good works, their own good temper;" or, when the charge is more mildly brought, it is said we exaggerate the importance of righteousness, and therefore underrate the necessity of faith. With all modesty, and yet with all firmness, such as belongs to the subject, would I deny this allegation. I say we do not undervalue faith, but we hold it to be essential to a religious experience and to a happy life. Now there are two kinds of faith, and we believe in the necessity of both kinds.

There is a faith of the mind, an intellectual faith; which receives certain truths, and endeavors to extract from them their meaning, lays up that meaning among the stores of mental learning, and there leaves it. Now, that kind of faith, though it be called barren, is yet needful, for there can be no other faith without it. That is the root. If you plant a root in the ground, and cover it up, and prevent its springing up and spreading out and bringing forth fruit, you may say it is of no use; but the root must be in the ground, or there will be no tree, no foliage, and no fruit. So ideas must be lodged in the mind, — religious ideas, — and they are the roots of character. But we are sometimes reminded that religious sentiment lies at the basis of religious life. It does sometimes; but it is not a safe reliance, friends. In the common course of events, religious sentiment may carry one forward toward perfection; but in the strain and stress of life, and when doubts come up and questions arise on this side and on that, we must have thought, and thought must grasp ideas, and those ideas must be religious ideas, and religious ideas make up one kind of faith.

But there is another kind of faith. To return again to our comparison: the root must appear before the branch, and must bring forth whatever is its characteristic product; and so faith must bring forth its own kind of excellence. Christian faith must produce Christian graces. The faith of the Gospel being planted in the soul must then quicken all the energies of the soul and cause them to expand; that is, to ripen, and to yield the fruits of salvation and life. If the faith of the mind does not thus become the faith of the heart, the intelligence, the will, it may be called, as it was by the Apostle, a " dead " faith. Sensible men will say it is an absurdity. We must invest our religious ideas in character, in life, and then they will not only be safe, but they will be profitable.
We believe, then, in the importance of faith, and we show you its twofold nature. We stand where Paul stood, when he said that " a man is justified by faith," — that is, made acceptable before God, and led by the Divine goodness toward righteousness, in consequence of his belief in, and use of, the great Christian ideas; and we stand where James stood, when he said that the mere mental reception of such ideas was insufficient, and that we must show their reality and their power in good works."


PeaceBang said...

This is so interesting. I get exactly what he means by faith in the first part, but he seems to go right to works theology in the second part, or "justification by works." I mean, what I was hoping he would do is to articulate what the second kind of faith *really* is (because I need help understanding it!) -- and he doesn't, but just says, in his own way, that "by your fruits you shall know it." I know, Ezra, but, like, WHAT IS IT?

I love his writing, though. What do you think? Do you know what I mean? Would you write about what the second kind of faith is?

slt said...

Hi Peacebang,
I do know what you mean. He does "hide" a bit his view of fatih in the idea of "works" but a couple of hints of what faith is to him shine through for me. First he says in an earlier sermon-

"The spiritual nature must be unfolded and exercised upon suitable objects of thought, affection, desire, hope. These it does not find in human society, nor among sensible things. They are revealed and embraced through faith. By this, man is introduced to a new society, and to the knowledge of higher relations than those of time. As he becomes more conversant with the beings and hopes of a spiritual world, their relative importance grows in his estimation. His affections fasten themselves with strength on worthy objects. He perceives that he stands in the midst of infinite relations. There is a light within him brighter than the rays of the sun, and in this light he beholds spiritual and everlasting things.
Faith, I say, introduces him to this new world."

And this line from Root and branch...

"The faith of the Gospel being planted in the soul must then quicken all the energies of the soul and cause them to expand; that is, to ripen, and to yield the fruits of salvation and life."

I think that what I love about his view of faith is that it is "practical" in that it is not a gift from without, but an introduction and an unfolding of what is already in us...Its that first shift in our angle of vision (the "beholding of spiritual and everslasting things) and then the work of life which is deepening and living in that vision.

But when it gets right down to it, I need help understanding it helps me to keep trying.
Thanks Peacebang! and
Blessings, BU