Monday, November 30, 2009

a more than human glory...

What it must have been like to listen to Channing preach!  By most accounts, his voice was not powerful and he was not particularly animated.  Instead, his holiness of character and utter sincerity animated his listeners and spurred them to self examination and a higher life.  Excerpts from Sermon One in the posthumous collection, "The Perfect Life."


Mark xii. 29, 30 : " The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment."

THE command thus given to love God, with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, is in harmony with our whole nature. We are made for God; all our affections, sensibilities, faculties, and energies are designed to be directed towards God; the end of our existence is fellowship with God. He could not require us to devote our entire being to Himself, if He had not endowed it with powers which fit us for such devotion. Religion then has its germs in our Nature, and its development is entrusted to our own care. Such is the truth that I would now illustrate.

I.—The Principle in Human Nature, from which religion springs, is the desire to establish relations with a Being more Perfect than itself.... If there is one principle, indeed, that may be declared to be essential in human nature, it is this unwillingness to shut itself up within its own limits, this tendency j to aspire after intercourse with some Divinity. It is true that men at various periods have formed most unworthy conceptions of their objects of worship. Still, by selecting the qualities which they esteemed most highly in themselves, and by enlarging and exalting them without bounds, they have showed, as plainly as have more enlightened ages, the spontaneous longing of the human spirit to rise above itself, and to ally its destiny with a Supreme Power. This simple view is sufficient to prove the grandeur of the Religious Principle...We see this principle in the creations of genius, in forms of ideal beauty to which poetry and the arts give immortality, in fictions where characters are portrayed surpassing the attainments of real life. We see this principle in the admiration with which stupendous intellect and heroic virtue are hailed, and in the delight with which we follow in history the career of men who in energy and disinterestedness have outstripped their fellows. The desire * for an excellence never actually reached by humanity, the aspiration towards that Ideal which we express by the word Perfection, this is the seminal principle of religion.

This view conducts us to an important standard, by which to judge of the Truth and Purity of any form of religion. A religion is true, in proportion to the clearness with which it makes manifest the Perfection of God. The purity of a particular system is to be measured by the conception which it inspires of God. Does it raise our thoughts to a Perfect Being ? Does it exalt us far above our own nature? Does it introduce us to a grand and glorious Intelligence ? Does it expand our minds with venerable and generous conceptions of the Author of existence ? I know no other test of a true and pure religion but this. Religion has no excellence, but as it lifts us up into communion with a Nature higher and holier than our own. It is the office of religion to offer the soul an object for its noblest faculties and affections, a Being through whom it may more surely and vigorously be carried forward to its own perfection. In proportion then as religion casts clouds around the glory of God, or detracts from the loveliness and grandeur of His character, it is devoid of dignity and tends to depress the mind...And the wise man is distinguished by detecting continually whatever is low in his apprehension of God, and by casting it away for more exalted views.

Men are attracted by no quality so much as by sovereign greatness of will. They love whatever bears the impress of the infinite. So strong is this principle of Reverence, that when fallen from the knowledge of the true God, they have sought substitutes in their own teeming imagination, have deified fellow-men, have invented beings in whom they might concentrate and embody their conceptions, just or unjust, of Supreme dignity. Thus the heart was made for worship, and worship it will. It longs for something more excellent than it finds on earth. In works of poetry and fiction it continually creates for itself a more than human glory."


Sunday, November 29, 2009


It is the First Sunday in Advent and my mind is on...perfection.  Advent is, of course, about waiting and looking forward and upward.  During the weeks of Advent, I have decided to excerpt the twelve sermons that make up William Ellery Channing's "The Perfect Life."  Gathered by William Henry Channing from his uncle's manuscripts, these sermons, in the words of WHC  "are precisely what they claim to be—a Minister's pulpit addresses to his own Congregation. They are neither Lectures for the learned, nor Essays for a literary circle, nor Papers for a critical Journal. Still less do they form a Theological Treatise. But they are Calls to the People to " come up higher." In them great truths are presented in the most popular form, and brought home to the common heart. "Written for delivery, week by week, during the last few years of Channing's life, it was manifestly his purpose to adapt his lessons to the apprehension of his simplest hearers. He would have all to share in the bright prospects, which had shone before him in hours of solitary thought and devout communion. And knowing that he was often charged with yielding to the charms of an ideal exaltation, which secluded him from the work-day world, he wished by cordial hospitality to make the humblest his peers. Thus reverent friendliness pervades the tenor of these appeals. And grave sincerity inspires their style."

The Biblical Epigraphs preceeding the sermons:

As for God, His way is perfect. God is my strength and power : and He maketh my way perfect.—2 Samuel xxii. 31, 33.

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.—Psalm xxxvii. 37.

I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt Thou come unto me ? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.— Psalm ci. 2.

I have seen an end of all perfection: but Thy commandment is exceeding broad.—Psalm cxix. 96.

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.—Matthew V. 48.

Perfect in one.-—John xvii. 23.

Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection.—Heb. vi. 1.

This also we wish, even your perfection. Be perfect.—2 Cor. xiii. 9, 11.

May the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory, by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect.— 1 Peter V. 10.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

O come, O come Emmanuel...

It is difficult to believe that the season of Advent is upon us.  This wonderful and sometimes painful time of preparation and anticipation is a powerful opportunity for cultivating a more devotional temper.  Last year I wrote a simple Advent devotional for individuals or families.  It consists of four posts (one for each Sunday in Advent) and can be done each day of the week.  If you do not find it to your liking, I encourage you to find or develop a practice for yourself during this season.

Many blessings

Thursday, November 26, 2009

For each new morning...

With this simple prayer from Ralph Waldo Emerson, BU wishes everyone a truly wonderful Thanksgiving.

"For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

all was spirit and all was life...

I had a talk yesterday with a friend and member of our church who has had a powerful spiritual experience (indeed is living a powerful spiritual experience) and has rejoined the Catholic Church.  Whenever I talk to this deeply passionate and articulate man, I am struck by many things. Yesterday, I was most struck by his combination of deep faith and his strong belief that such faith was not bound to any one religion or denomination.  It is a tendency (probably to some degree in all of us) to bind the two and liberal religionists are certainly no exception.  This morning, my devotional reading included James Freeman Clarke's "The Word of God Not Bound."  One of the guiding reasons for this blog is to relate the combination of deep piety and "rational religion" of the Boston Unitarians...this from Clarke is a pretty fine statement of that spirit.


LIBERAL Christianity may be defined, not as any belief, nor as any system of opinions, but as something going deeper. It is a habit of mind ; a way of considering all opinions as of secondary importance ; all outward statements, methods, operations, administrations, as not belonging to the essence of religion. Liberal Christianity comes from that spiritual insight which penetrates the shell and finds the kernel; sees what is the one thing needful, and discovers it to be not the form, but the substance; not the letter, but the spirit; not the body, but the soul; not the outward action, but the inward motive; not the profession, but the life.

In this sense, the Apostle Paul was the first Liberal Christian, and the founder of that Liberal Christianity which is not confined to any sect or party, any denomination or church; but which inspires and animates to-day the best men in all denominations, from the Roman Catholics on the one side to the most radical come-outers on the other side. And the motto and maxim of Liberal Christianity, everywhere, is given in our text, that " The word of God is not bound." The most zealous Roman Catholic is a Liberal Christian when, however strongly he believes in the superior value of his own church, he yet does not believe that the word of God is bound to it, but cheerfully admits that there may be good Christians outside of it. A Trinitarian is a Liberal Christian who, holding the dogma of the Trinity himself, does not think it the only essential form of words according to which God may be seen and worshipped. A Unitarian is a Liberal Christian only when he believes that a sincere believer in the Trinity can be as much of a liberal and rational Christian as himself. Liberal Christianity does not exclude zeal for one's own church, or one's own belief ; but it fully recognizes that these belong not to the vital and eternal part of religion, but to the temporal and fugitive part.

If this be so, why, you may ask, do I not call Jesus himself the founder of Liberal Christianity? Because, as long as he taught, all Christianity was liberal, and could not be otherwise. The body had not come, the forms had not arrived ; as yet dogma did not exist. Christianity was then all life, essence, spirit. It had not begun to run into any ruts of routine....All was spirit and all was life."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the kind friend always near...

James Freeman Clarke retells the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan in his sermon "The Spirit of Fear and the Spirit of Power"

"The main purpose of Christianity is to save us from sin, and thereby to save us from its consequences, which are moral and spiritual death. And it saves us, not by inspiring fear, but by inspiring faith and courage. It assures us that " sin shall not have dominion " over us, because we are " not under the law, but under grace," and because the strength of sin is the law. What does this mean ?...

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. This man is the human soul on its journey through human life and the experiences of earth. The thieves are temptations from without and within, which strip the soul of its heaven given raiment of innocence, wound the moral nature, and leave the human being, despoiled of peace and hope, perishing in the wilderness of the world. Then there comes a priest — a preacher of the moral law—and says, "Arise and flee, or thou wilt perish on the sand ; or, if not, the robbers will return and slay thee. Thou must exert thyself and go to the city; it is many miles distant, but thou must reach it, or die." And having said this, the priest departs. The man rouses himself, goes a little way, but, weak through his wounds, drops on the ground more discouraged than before. Then comes the Levite, who represents the ceremonial law, and tells him that the holy church, by its sacraments and its ministers, its holy creed, its holy books and its holy days, will endeavor to obtain from God his cure, and so passes by on the other side. Then comes the gospel, as the good Samaritan, on its journey of grace and peace through the world. It has compassion on the soul because it is weak and sinful, It pours the oil of God's forgiving love into the wounds of the conscience ; the wine of inspiring truth and an infinite hope into the mind. It sets him on its own beast, and brings him to the inn, and takes care of him, and makes a provision for his permanent relief and cure. The soul, made alive by Christian faith, feels that it has not to struggle unaided in the work of duty. It feels the kind friend always near, the supporting arms always ready, the provision for future need all made ; and so, inspired with new faith and courage, is able to begin a new life."


Monday, November 23, 2009

some special grace...

I was deeply struck, this morning, by these words of James Freeman Clarke.  I have always admired his ability to go from the ideal to the practical and nowhere is this quality more needed than in speaking of love; love to Christ or love to our fellow beings.  We are encouraged, by our popular culture to have a Hallmark view of love.  The reality of daily life can never live up and the Hallmark moments are easily forgotten.  I believe deeply that every person does, as Clarke puts it, manifest "some special grace." and when we look to that grace and not to the fault...well, then we all are elevated.  These words from Clarke's sermon "If Any Man Be In Christ, He Is A New Creature"

"To be in Christ, we must love him. But love means much more than blind affectionate instincts, or clinging attachments, or sudden emotions. It is far more noble than that. It is that flame in the soul, caught by the sight of superior beauty and truth and good, which animates and elevates one's whole being, bringing one into harmony with the ideas of those we love. It implies some intelligent sympathy, however small, with their best aims and purposes. Love, true love, attaches itself to that which is better, nobler, higher, than what we have in ourselves. Love looks up to receive a higher influence, to be inspired by a purer life. Love must elevate us, or it is not really love.

If so, you may say, how can there be mutual love ? how can two persons really love each other ? since if neither is better than the other, there can be love on neither side ; and if one is better than the other, then only the lower nature can love the higher. Thus it would seem there can be no such thing as mutual love. The answer is, that each may have some quality higher than the other. God has made us different, to this end, that each may be a revelation of some truth, beauty, good, to another mind. He has made every one of us capable of manifesting some special grace, some peculiar charm of sweetness, or nobleness, or truth. He has made every one of us capable of manifesting something of God's divine beauty to our fellowmen, and when we really love, it is because we see that, and love that. We see and love something of " God manifest in the flesh."

(the painting is "The Jewish Bride" by Rembrandt

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My footsteps here below direct...

This from James Freeman Clarke's "Church of the Disciples" service book...a hymn for guidance. 

"God's Guidance"       Jung Stilling

1 Thou, who upon the eternal throne,
Dost weigh the fates of all below,
And ever wear'st the radiant crown
Of worlds unnumbered round thy brow:
Thy wisdom formed the plan sublime
Of what man's future course shall be;
The path didst shew which I must climb
To reach my final destiny.

2 Till then let power Divine protect,
And heavenly peace my spirit cheer,
My footsteps here below direct,
Till I before thy face appear.
The present seed I now shall sow
To ripen for eternity,
O let it to perfection grow,
Then take thy pilgrim home to thee.


dependent offspring...

This prayer from the "Service Book for the Church of the Savior" 2nd. ed.  The Church of the Savior was organized in 1845 and consisted of a faction that broke away from James Freeman Clarke's Church of the Disciples when he (Clarke) invited Theodore Parker to speak there.  Regular readers know that I am a great admirer of James Freeman Clarke.  Though he was a "moderate" his invitation to Parker (when he was receiving precious few) precipitated a split. Clarke himself remained on good terms with the "schismatics" who became poster people for the conservative wing of Unitarianism.  And they had a good service book...

"O Lord, merciful and gracious, we, thy dependent offspring, would now humbly and sincerely thank thee, because thou hast given us life, and by thy bountiful providence hast always nourished, directed and governed us. For our reason. education and religion; for all the gifts of nature and of grace ; for our Saviour, Christ; for our redemption, and instruction in the truth ; for thy repeated calls to us ; for all the patience which has waited for us, and all the mercy which has spared us ; for all the enjoyments of this present life, and for all thy promises, and all our hopes of a better life to come, we bless and magnify thy holy name. And grant, 0 Lord, that thy mercies may be followed by our obedience ; and that we may so walk in the light of thy favor, and in the paths of thy commandments, that living here to thy praise, we may at last be received to thyself, to rejoice forever in thy presence; which we ask in the name, and as disciples of him who died that we might live ; through whom to thee be ascribed all thanksgiving and praise, both now and forever. Amen."


Friday, November 20, 2009

sing the God...

The great web of creation and our response is the theme of Thomas Treadwell Stone (often excerpted in this space) today.  Thanksgiving sermon week continues with:

Psalm cxlvi. 1, 2.


I can hardly think that so little a thing as even the wild flower, springing up and blooming almost under the last snows of winter, was originally planted and has been nourished so carefully either for me or for any other man. Rather, I am ready to believe, it exists for itself; created and nourished through cold and heat, in all stages of its growth, to be the flower it is, to fulfil in its sphere the beautiful idea which it embodies. There may be that, perhaps, in the Divine Soul which must in this way give forth its sweet benignity. Still more, we may think it is so, throughout the compass of living existence. There is joy enough in life itself to justify the creative Wisdom...

All things are continually coming in truth into one web; and fast as the shuttle flies weaving them together, the connections and secret influences are multiplied and strengthened: at the same time, however, each thread, each filament, is a whole, not only contributing to the great texture, but receiving of it strength and compactness. There is at once all in each, and each in all. These ends of existence, these hidden causes, continually projecting themselves into multitudinous and beautiful effects, rise in ascending scale, as natures are higher; in man, as highest, they show themselves at their greatest elevation. Him, the Divine Life inspires. It excites the deepest aspirations, the sweetest affections, thoughts pure and bright as light, deeds nobler than heroism, words true to the soul and true to God; these all, movements of his inner being, growths of his life, substantial and elemental portions of the spiritual fabric, whose basis is on the earth amidst the fluctuations' of time, but whose summit rises ever upward through the heavens amidst the calm Sabbath of the Eternal. So his end is no other than celestial and immortal. His, in one word, is the filial union with the Father, signified by prayer and praise, and preeminently by the hymn. " What else," Epictetus is reported to have said, "what else can I, lame old man, if not sing the God ? Sure, if I had been a nightingale, I would have done the things of a nightingale; if a swan, those of a swan; but now that I am partaker of reason, I ought to sing God in the hymn; this is my work, I am doing it; nor will I leave this assigned order while it is given me: you, moreover, I invite to this same song."


Thursday, November 19, 2009

the fatal ingratitude...

James Freeman Clarke has, the past two days expressed that for which all should be thankful. Today, in this continuation of his sermon, "The Unspeakable Gift," he gets to the heart of gratitude...

"But why should we praise God? He does not need words of praise. He cannot love praise as men desire it. He is not jealous, as earthly kings are jealous, of honor withdrawn from him or given to another. Even a good man does not desire to be praised for his goodness; he prefers to do his good works unknown of men, as Jesus recommends. He does not let his left hand know what his right hand does. How then can God desire the praise of his creatures?...

To thank God when we know that he does not desire our thanks, and takes no pleasure in them except for our good, would be a barren offering, and almost unnecessary. There is a sense in which God may enjoy the thanks of his creatures. If those thanksgivings of ours spring not from the mind only; but the heart also; if they come from love, then even the Infinite Majesty of Heaven may find joy in the grateful heart of creation. For love unites the high and the low. Pure love is never wasted, it never fails; it is greater than faith and hope; it is the essential thing in prayer, it is that which makes obedience twice blessed. Who can ever despise or be indifferent to sincere love? It is the greatest gift of God to men, the only return men can make to God.

This, then, is "the unspeakable gift," the gift which makes the value of all other gifts. We do not value a gift from man unless we see in it some love. How can we be grateful for anything given only with the hand and not with the heart, given from a mere sense of duty, given by rule, or custom, or law? You could not be very grateful to a man even for saving your life if he did it thinking of his own glory, or as a mere function of his business, "perfunctorily," as we say. No! unless a man puts some heart into his gift, he has no right to ask for gratitude. We complain that men are not grateful for our benevolence. Are you grateful for anything done for you by those who do not love you, who help you merely out of self-respect, or to retain the respect of others? No! There must be some element of love in a gift to make it of any value.

Real ingratitude then, the fatal ingratitude, comes from those who are unable or unwilling to recognize love in a giver. He who believes that men are only selfish, he who attributes selfish motives to all human acts, has made himself incapable of gratitude. He who reasons thus in order to justify his own selfishness, cannot be grateful. No matter how generously he may be treated, he does not see the generosity; he invents some personal motive to account for it. The generous man looks for generosity, the selfish man expects selfishness, and each finds what he looks for...

The "unspeakable gift," therefore, which gives value to God's other gifts, is the love which is in them. It is "unspeakable," for who can describe even human love, much less infinite love? But what we cannot describe we can see and know. Who can describe the perfume of a violet? Yet we know it, and know its difference from the odor of mignonette, or that of a rose. Who can describe the melody in the song of a nightingale, or the music of a gentle voice? But we know these, and can recall them after long years. So we may know, though we cannot describe, this unspeakable gift of Divine Love...

It is not till we see love in God's gifts that we are grateful; and when we see love, we cannot help being grateful."


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a life of communion...

James Freeman Clarke's great enthusiasm for life is apparent in this continuation of his sermon, "The Unspeakable Gift"...

"And what a wonderful gift is the human soul! What mysterious powers are hidden therein, slowly evolved into grand activities. How strange that each of us should be a person, forever himself, with a great gulf separating him from all other persons. I, always myself, you, always yourself, forever a pure unit of individual consciousness! And yet that this personal unit, so limited and confined, should be able to unite itself in thought with past and present, with the universe of space and time; should be able to reach out to the stars, weigh and measure the planets; should be able to recall the history of the earth and unroll its geological record; should be able to analyze substances burning in the furnaces of sun and stars; able to send by lightning its messages under the ocean and over the continent ; able to enter with sympathetic thought into the mind of Homer, Dante and Milton; able to know Christ and love him; able to live a life of communion with eternal right and infinite good— this is the most marvelous fact of all, and for all this we may well thank God every day and every hour."


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the perpetual giver...

Thanksgiving sermon week continues today with this from James Freeman Clarke...

"Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift."— 2 Cor

"The text says, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." Before we consider what this unspeakable gift is, let us consider those which can be easily spoken of.

What a wonderful world is this into which we have been born! What beauty, what variety, what majestic presence of law, what vast order, what infinite adaptations to the purposes of life!...

Life is a little day, but how it is filled with opportunity for knowledge, for work, for love. It has room in it for the sublime voices of prophets, bards, leaders, reformers, saints and martyrs. It has room for the happy homes of those whose sober wishes do not learn to stray from the cool sequestered vale of familiar affections. It has room for dear little children, innocent infants, with an aureole of divine light around them. It has room for generosity, patience, hope and self denying love. It has room for pain borne without repining, for bereavement sustained by faith, for a death made sweet by an infinite hope. It has room for love of wife and husband, for the tenderness of the parent and the piety of the child. It has joys and work and duties for youth, manhood and age. These gifts are evident ; they are new every morning. God opens his hand and supplies the wants of every living thing. He is the perpetual giver. His joy is in never-ceasing creation. The fountain of his love pours forth new supplies each moment. If his gifts are perpetually passing away, it is that they may be forever renewed..."


Monday, November 16, 2009

satisfactions from blighted spots...

The older I get, the more I am aware of the deep importance of gratitude. Mind you, this doesn't mean that I practice gratitude more-in fact it often seems a more and more difficult thing. And yet, and yet... These days before Thanksgiving, to deepen my own sense of gratitude, I will excerpt Boston Unitarian Thanksgiving sermons beginning with Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham's THE WONDERFUL WORKS OF GOD'S GOODNESS.

Psalm cvii. 8, 15, 21, 31

...we do not " praise the Lord for his goodness " as we ought, because we are heedless; not remembering him in his benefits, because we remember him in nothing. The neglect is only a part of a general deficiency in our religious sentiments. We are too anxious, or too much occupied. We are so taken up with the good gifts of life, as mere means of enjoyment, that we have little disposition to mingle them with devout acknowledgments to Him who bestows them all. Or else, unhappy in the midst of them and indifferent to the best of them, vexed at their discounts or afraid for their loss, we feel the disturbances of our own thoughts shaking all the foundations of comfort, and we allow a single affliction to cloud a whole heaven of grace, and we deny that there is any thing worthy of very fervent expressions of thanks in the favors of so distracted a lot...

And again, " his wonderful works to the children of men" are not rehearsed as they should be, because we do not recognize them where they are most really displayed. We mistake their nature; and so when they are present we do not observe them; and when nothing is present but the feeding of a full sense, or the triumph of a proud will, or the preponderance of brute power, we inaugurate our selfishness; we make priestesses of our passions; we confound our greediness or ambition or revenge with a true thank-offering to Heaven... We still imagine often that we are giving thanks, when we are only blessing ourselves for success or indulgence. Our rejoicing is not in the Eternal Providence. Our returns are not to Him. We set our regards in the wrong direction. We put our passing interests, and the gratification of our immediate wish, in the place of the most that God can do for us. We exalt our conceit and presumption, and call it gratitude...

The reason that we have no more gratitude is that we have no more fidelity; —that we are no more true to our powers of discernment, means of improvement, and sources of joy; to the capacities of every upright heart, and the privileges of the meanest condition...

No faithful heart will hang dependent on contingencies. It can see outward prosperities wither with a better trust than others see them spring. It can glean up more satisfactions from blighted spots, than others can cut from whole " fields of offerings." The blessing must abide within; and if it is there, it is everlasting."


Sunday, November 15, 2009

sleep today, tormenting cares...

This sabbath hymn from the "Hymns of the Spirit" 1889 ed.


O Father! though the anxious fear
May cloud to-morrow's way,
No fear nor doubt shall enter here;
All shall be Thine to-day.
We will not bring divided hearts
To worship at Thy shrine ;
But each unworthy thought departs,
And leaves this temple Thine.
Sleep, sleep to-day, tormenting cares,
Of earth and folly born;
Ye shall not dim the light that streams
From this celestial morn.
To-morrow will be time enough
To feel your harsh control;
Ye shall not violate this day,
The sabbath of the soul.

Have a blessed sabbath

Saturday, November 14, 2009

a religion which tells the heart to beat...

This from the "Unitarian Miscellany and Christian Monitor" from 1823...

"How then is our religious faith to be regulated?...
Such a rule is given by St. Paul in a few words. With the heart, says he, man believeth unto righteousness.* Here we are told, that if a man would believe unto righteousness, that is, if he would have his belief terminate in those moral and spiritual qualifications, which God will accept and bless, he must believe with his heart; we are told, that the only principles on which we can place a well grounded reliance, are those whose foundation is the heart; that the only religion, which will effectually assist and console us, is the religion of the heart; that the only faith which will save us, is the faith of the heart...

What then is meant by the faith of the heart?

By the faith of the heart, is to be understood, in the first place, a faith which does not terminate in speculation. By the religion of the heart, is to be understood a vital religion, a religion which lives, and breathes, and moves, and acts; which prompts the virtues, and regulates the conduct; a religion which tells the heart to beat, whenever the blessed names and offices of integrity, purity, and justice, are recited; which commands the affections to fly, wherever there is a tear flowing, which they can wipe away, or a bosom bleeding, which they can bind, or a care which they can render lighter by their support, or a sorrow which they can alleviate by their sympathy; a religion which bids its votaries lift a reverend and grateful eye to the Creator for his ceaseless and unspeakable bounties, and then look down again on the world—and endeavour to deserve them."


Friday, November 13, 2009

the loyal soul...

Transcendentalism's detractors have, from its beginning, criticized it for its seeming egotism. Unfortunately many of its adherents have embraced it for the same reason. Emerson sets the record straight in this excerpt from "Immortality:"

"It is a proverb of the world that good will makes intelligence, that goodness itself is an eye ; and the one doctrine in which all religions agree is that new light is added to the mind in proportion as it uses that which it has. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." Ignorant people confound reverence for the intuitions with egotism. There is no confusion in the things themselves. The health of the mind consists in the perception of law. Its dignity consists in being under the law. Its goodness is the most generous extension of our private interests to the dignity and generosity of ideas. Nothing seems to me so excellent as a belief in the laws. It communicates nobleness, and, as it were, an asylum in temples to the loyal soul."


Thursday, November 12, 2009

a loose screw...

Father Taylor, Methodist minister to the sailors at Seaman's Bethel Chapel in Boston and model for Melville's Father Mapple loved Emerson but had little good to say about his philosophy. Emerson, for his part, deeply admired Taylor. "what splendor, what sweetness, what richness, what depth, what cheer!"
Of transcendentalism, Taylor, after hearing some discourse (not by Emerson) or other said, "It would take as many sermons like that to convert a human soul as it would quarts of skimmed milk to make a man drunk."
And yet he loved Emerson, saying of him, "Mr Emerson is one of the sweetest creatures God ever made; there is a screw loose somewhere in the machinery, yet I cannot tell where it is, for I never heard it jar. He must go to heaven when he dies, for if he went to hell the devil would not know what to do with him."


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the divinity of man and the humanity of God...

This on Athanasius and his creed from John White Chadwick in his admirable study of Unitarianism, "Old an New Unitarian Belief" published in 1894.

"The Unitarianism of Arius in the fourth century, so often treated as a novel heresy, was, in fact, the swan-song of the Unitarian orthodoxy of the earlier Church; and swan-songs are not sweet. His doctrine, while it saved the unity of God, saved nothing of "the excellency of Christ" for human nature. Indeed, the Athanasian doctrine, which triumphed over Arius, at Nicaea, in its identification of Jesus with God, while still affirming his humanity, was a doctrine much more honorable to human nature than that of Arius, which made Jesus a being sui generis, as far as possible removed from man, as near as possible to God, short of identity. The attractiveness of Athanasius — whom you must not associate with the seventh-century Athanasian Creed, but with the fourth-century Nicene — for many Unitarians is in virtue of the fact that they find in him a blundering expression of " the divinity of man and the humanity of God," and of the one substance of all uncreated and created things."


Monday, November 9, 2009

marriage benefits...

James Cabot relates the following about Ralph Waldo Emerson shortly following his marriage and the establishment of his home in Concord.
"Emerson got his study arranged and settled down to the manner of life from which he never departed. There was a small flower garden already laid out in which Mrs. Emerson established her favorite plants from Plymouth: and there was also a vegetable garden, where Emerson began his husbandry, leaving his study to do a little work there every day. While thus engaged one day in the following spring, one of his townsmen came to warn him that a stray pig was doing mischief in the neighboring grounds. He then learned that he had been appointed one the the hog-reeves for the year, according to the town custom, which pointed out newly married men as particularly eligible for that office."

(this description of the position of Hog-reeve found at

"New England towns appointed hog reeves (officers charted with the prevention or appraising of damages by stray swine). Hogs were usually supposed to be yoked (wear collars) and have rings in their noses, which reduced the amount of damage they could do to gardens and crops by rooting. This was not a minor concern, because this food was necessary for human survival. There were punishments established for failure to control animals. The fine in Chelsea was "10 shillings for each swine for every time it is found without a keeper." But, the damaged party had to have an adequate fence, as in 1643 Virginia where "if he be deficient therein, what damage he shall systeyne by hoggs, goats or cattle whatsoever shall be to his own losse and detriment." Wandering livestock were called "estrays," they were "taken up," and they often were taken to the "pound." Notice of such actions are found in town records and county court minutes.
If the owner of a hog had not 'rung' and 'yoked' their hogs, and they got loose and became a nuisance in the community, one or more of the men assigned as Hog Reeve would be responsible for capturing the animal and performing the necessary chore for the owner; who could legally be charged a small fee for the service.
Reeve" derives from the same root as the "riff" in sheriff, and a hog reeve rounded up stray hogs. He turned them over to the pound keeper, who fed them until claimed by the owner, who paid set fees."


Sunday, November 8, 2009

remember the sabbath...

May everyone have a joyful and blessed sabbath day.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

enjoy the vision bright...

I am struggling with a sermon to be delivered tomorrow. I have a vague idea of where I want it to end up but cant seem to come up with words that will get it there.
A part of it is expressed in this hymn (found in the 1865 edition of Hymns of the Spirt) which will serve as the prayer...

"The light pours down from heaven
And enters where it may
The eyes of all earth’s children
Are cheered with one bright day.

So let the minds true sunshine
Be spread o’er earth as free,
And fill our waiting spirits,
As the waters fill the sea

The soul can shed a glory
On every work well done
As even things most lowly
Are radiant in the sun

Then let each human spirit
Enjoy the vision bright
The truth which comes from heaven
Shall spread like heaven's own light

Till earth becomes God's temple
And every human heart
Shall join in one great service
Each happy in our part."


Thursday, November 5, 2009

another channel must be opened...

Thomas Treadewell Stone rises to transcendental heights in this excerpt from "The Rod and the Staff," It is an impassioned plea to "open new channels" to the spirit:

"When we contemplate the person in himself and his relations to the material order, we scarce think of doubt; man is here with his wants, of which the greatest is Divine comfort. When from the person we go forth to contemplate society through its several relations, we have no more doubt: the wants are felt at once, happy when the supply comes in the presence of God. So far a childlike trust goes with us. The Church meets us as threshold, nay, more than this, in its whole significance, as temple itself, for worship in another form. An hour may come, to some it comes inevitably, when either the Divine consolation must die from their hearts, or another channel must be opened for it, another sphere revealed into which the soul enters, thenceforth seeing the presence of which it had earlier heard and accepted the tradition. We stand as yet but at the entrance. The realm of spirit spreads out to infinitude. The shrine of its worship expands and ascends and shines out to the opening eye brighter and higher than the sun. The Deep is before us; and though no dark inscription repels us from the gateway, no hopeless sorrows threaten us if we dare to pass within, yet nowhere more than here, and through this entire process of the Regeneration, do we need at every step the strength and guidance from above. We are still partakers of the earthly nature, souls living in the form of the first man: and such as he, so weak, so ignorant, so sinful, we must essay to know and interpret the characters of the Lord from heaven. If so far we have striven to follow the Divine voice in our earthly relations, now that the quickening spirit is revealed, we are to strive, deeper within the new mystery, to pass into its own higher sphere, obedient to the greater word which it speaks, alive with the purer inspiration which it breathes through heaven and earth.

Let the celestial life of Jesus furnish the perfect symbol."

(On a more personal note, I would sure appreciate everyone's prayers today for Judy and Carrie-many thanks)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the mystery which makes it what it is...

More on the sphere of the spirit from Thomas Treadwell Stone:

"The practical difficulty which meets men of believing tendencies and devout affections is the apparent distance of this mysterious sphere from human perception. We see, they may say, the system of nature. By day, the sun is out in fulness of splendor, and the numberless forms of earth dwell amidst its beams. By night, the moonlight calms the air and sky, and sleeps on field or forest or water, and stars stand out, indicating worlds upon worlds. But the sphere of spirit! We see no such thing; no sun, no moon, no star, no earth or sea. We try to look upon it; only one immense void, one everlasting abyss, meets our asking eye. It is as when we stretch our sight from the deck of a ship in mid-ocean; nothing meets it but empty sky and sea; nay, more, the void is such as we might dream if sea had no surface or form, sky no circle or color, an infinite vacuity. — When such doubt comes over us, let us gather our thoughts and examine the case, how it really is. If to the mind opened only on the side of the world, nature seems nearest and most real, yet to the mind once opened fully on the side of the spiritual realm, spirit becomes nearest and most real. The world, no longer all or continent of all, becomes a transparent medium of the creative light which contains, encircles, penetrates, the whole. But the power itself, the everlasting substance, of both the seen and the unseen, is always invisible. The very tree there on the hill-side, red with the gorgeous hues of this rich autumn,—who can tell those elements and powers combined, away from all perception of the five senses, which have worked through it so many years, through such changes of season, to bring it where it is now, — to constitute its very nature, to be the essence and ground of its growth and its whole form ? That one red leaf, who can describe its internal history from the first green through summer to this bright October? The question goes deeper than the sense, and leaves the naturalist pursuing an entirely different course of observations. It suggests to us, that, after all, we know, we perceive of even the tree merely certain appearances within the compass of sense, not the mystery which makes it what it is, which lives and grows through it. But as much as this we are able to know, and the enlightened mind does know, of the grander, the pervading, creative mystery, the appearances, the developments, the fruit, as the Apostle terms it, of the spirit, its natural growth into the order of life and action, — love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. As really as the fruit of autumn expresses the power working into the processes of nature, so really virtue reveals and bodies forth the power working through the greater processes of spirit."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

the bosom of the infinite mystery...

T.T. Stone speaks this morning of the world of the spirit and its uses and abuses. The two primary"fruits" of that "sphere of the spirit" are true prayer and trust:

"Every man knows there is a real existence apparent to us in the boundless forms of nature. As surely, though many may sneer or deny, there is a real existence apparent to us under the boundless presence of spirit. There are deceptions and mistakes in the reports which sense brings us of nature; there are enthusiasms and errors in the visions which thought accepts of spirit. But nature is not less a fact, spirit is not less a reality. And spiritual existence, to say the least, is just as certain as natural existence. It were a waste of words to spend them in demonstration of an existence surrounding us; if our inner sense were as thoroughly exercised as our outer senses, it would be just as much a waste of words to spend them in demonstration of a grander sphere and order of existence transcending nature, pervading and quickening man and the universe. The demonstration, in fact, can hardly be other at any time than, as the word imports, a showing of the reality to the eye of the mind...

Prayer, if it be prayer, is itself emanation of a spirit into the sphere of spirit. It is not a posture, it is not a word, it is not a form, it is not a modification of body or of nature; it is spiritual effluence and experience. Trust, the deep, calm, unutterable repose of the man in the bosom of the infinite mystery, — the childlike look out into the measureless universe, nothing presented to the sense, but the soul taking an inspiration as from a father's soothing presence, — this is as really a spiritual experience, — one fact of the spiritual order...

The caution... is, not to destroy, not to deny, not to neglect, the power or the organ, but to train ourselves to discrimination of the false and the true, of the delusion which plays off its tricks upon us, and the reality which belongs to the majestic and permanent order."


Sunday, November 1, 2009

"shall I not drink it?...

Just as pleasuse has its prayer (see the last few posts), so too does pain. The words of T.T. Stone continued...

"Pain has also prayer of its own. The utterance may be suppressed; or it may be made up of extorted aspirations and broken sentences, and, in extreme states, even of agonized words. But there are intervals of alleviation, longer or shorter, when the mind is able to collect for a while its thoughts, and, beyond the piercing cry for rest and mercy, can go forth soaring from its own depth and darkness through serener air toward the gates of heaven. Then, we may think, such meditations and prayers as these gush out from the full heart: —

Father, I raise unto thee my cry; in thy mercy hear me. Only thou knowest the necessity; I feel but the bitterness of the draught. My very soul is oppressed by my sufferings. I am faint in body and feeble in mind; I am pained without and within. Only thou canst support me; only thou canst lift me up. Suffer me not to complain or become impatient. O let it be that I may have such relief, and so constant, that I shall never lose the power of unbroken thought; that I shall never fail of controlling my temper, my tongue, and my conduct to those about me. Let not others suffer from any restlessness or unkindness of mine. Strengthen me to possess my soul, to preserve faith in thee, to be gentle and loving to all.

I have learned in this painful experience something of my capacity to endure. When pain is violent, so that it seems intolerable, yet I cannot sink wholly. Thine arm, Almighty, holds me up. When pain gives place to exhaustion, and I feel myself penetrated by weakness, so that it becomes a faintness through my whole body, still I live. Thy life, Eternal, flows through me. Empower me, Lord, to look now to thee for solace and peace. For every relief I thank thee; for these supports in the past, for these consolations of sweet and tranquil rest, for the love and trust which thou breathest into my soul. If I am again to bear the severities of pain, again to faint in weakness, I beseech thee still to comfort me. Carry my thoughts back to thy Son in his deeper sorrows; and impart to me something of the trust which was with him in his lonely grief, which gave his soul rest in thee when he bowed heavily to the earth, which renewed his calmness when his enemies laid their hands upon him, which remained with him when he bare his cross and stood before the judgment-seat, and which broke from his lips as his spirit arose to thee. Make me like this dearly beloved Son of God, a lowly child of thine; and now and always, with him, enable thy feeble one to say, The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it ? Blessed be thou, Father, for ever. Amen."