Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lo here! and Lo there!...

This morning one of the finest statements I have yet come across of the religious temperament that I find so admirable in the "Boston Unitarians."  It comes from the sermon, "A Revival of Knowledge Needed" by Charles T. Brooks...

"It is often said that our Unitarian discourses (and the remonstrance has sometimes been made with regard to those delivered from this pulpit) appeal too much to the reason, and too little to the feelings. But I remember with what clear and conclusive majesty of statement the great preacher who, twenty-one years ago, gave me the charge on taking this ministry, and who being dead, yet speaketh, exhorted me to " put confidence in the power of pure, unsophisticated truth," — to " be willing to seem cold, rather than  o'erstep the modesty' of truth," — how he cautioned me " against distrust of simple truth," " against artificial processes," " against straining for effect," insisting that " in the long run, nothing is so strong as simplicity." " Truth is the power," he said, " which is to conquer the world ; and you cannot toil too much to give clear perceptions of it. I may seem to waste words," he added," on so plain a point; but I apprehend, that few ministers understand the importance of helping men to see religious truth distinctly. No truth, I fear, is so faintly apprehended. On the subject of religion, most men walk in a mist." And never shall I forget the emphasis with which he turned to me and said, " My brother, help men to see." I believe I have always had the spirit of this exhortation about me in all my efforts to promote the great object of the gospel ministry, not because it was the exhortation of a man, even one so spiritually gifted, but because my whole soul told me, and every year's reflection has confirmed me in the conviction, that he uttered the very word of truth and soberness.

I do not think that we have, by any means, entirely recovered yet from the grievous injury which has been done to our religious interests by the disparagement of individual judgment in the matter of religion. There are, indeed, two extremes against which Christian simplicity requires us to be on our guard, — the stoical pride of rationalism on the one hand, and the insidious Epicureanism of sentimentality on the other. I know no better way of securing the safe middle course, than by recognizing and following the doctrine that reason is the foundation of religion; but, at the same time, that this is no ground for idle self-complacency, because reason is the light of God in the soul, and, therefore, instead of a self-exalting, the consciousness of this should be a self-humbling, and yet quickening, sentiment to one who will see how that light strikes on his own character.

There are some who seem as if they could never hear of religion's great appeal being to man as a rational nature, without persisting in misunderstanding you ; as if, in referring to reason, you meant merely a speculative, negative principle; as if reason were only a faculty which disproves, and denies, and throws away error; or as if you were foisting into the sphere of religion a faculty which was meant merely to guide man in the secular affairs of life. They will not see that this equally modest and sacred faculty of reason is that in man which not merely disproves what is to be disbelieved, but proves what is to be believed, and revered, and obeyed; which lays the foundation of that faith, that religion, which alone glorifies God and benefits man; and especially will they not see that one of reason's best offices is to do away that unworthy distinction between holy duties and common duties, which has ever been one of the greatest stumbling-blocks in the way of religious belief and life.

When many are running to and fro to meet the spirit, is the very time, it seems to me, for those who believe that the spirit of the ever-present and omnipresent One, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, is always striving and struggling with our spirits, always knocking at the door of our hearts, in every vicissitude of life, and even in that dullness which seems like death,— it is the very time for those who believe this, to say so. When many are running to and fro to seek religious feelings, then is the time for those who believe that, after all, individual thought alone can make feeling genuinely and practically religious, to say so. When many are crying, Lo here! and lo there! then is the time for those who believe, and are impressed with the importance of the truth, that the fountain of peace and purification is within, to say so, humbly, indeed, but honestly...

I end...with echoing the prayer of the Apostle... and this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in all knowledge and judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."

(Painting is "Allegory of Wisdom" by Benedetto Luti)

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