Friday, January 8, 2010

this great cloud of witnesses...

Begun at the beginning of Advent, this series from "The Perfect Life" by William Ellery Channing ends appropriately today with a continuation of his sermon, "The Church Universal."  The Boston Unitarian emphasis on virtue and duty can sometimes seem somewhat solitary and, to some, as somewhat bloodless and cold.  Channing shows it to be just the opposite (it also gives a pretty good reason for remembering our history...) 

"In these views we discover a peculiarity and a supremely honourable one, of the relationship formed by Christianity among its disciples. It is a perpetual and ever-growing relationship. The toils and sufferings for a Nation, which has its date and is hastening to its appointed term ; which is soon to be joined, in its decline and fall, with past and almost forgotten empires,—may fade from the mind of the patriot. Death may break the bond which joined him to it, and put an end not only to his efforts for its welfare, but to his sympathies in its fate. But not so can it be with the Christian. Labourer and sufferer for the Church Universal as he has been on earth, his energies are consecrated to an Immortal Cause; to the interests of a Community which will outlive sun and stars ; and which, being of heavenly origin, tends towards and will be perfected in Heaven. Death cannot take him out of this Church, nor in the least degree loosen his connections with it. On the contrary, he goes to join the triumphant, purified, blessed portion of this Community, among whom his affections for his militant brethren here, instead of being extinguished, will gain new fervour...

3. In the next place, how does the Christian on Earth contribute his part to this union ? I answer, by recollection, and by hope; by looking back to the lives and characters of departed Saints while they were inhabitants of this world; and by anticipating joyfully their society in the world to come. The Christian, imbued with the spirit of his religion, maintains communion by grateful remembrance with those who have gone before...He does not regard his Religion merely as a blessing of the present moment, but studies with profoundest interest its past history. He remembers that it has come down to him through a long procession of ages, and that it has been transmitted through the professions, sufferings, prayers, and virtues of millions, who have lived and died for it before his birth. He delights to think of his Religion under the similitude which Jesus gave, of a seed sown upon earth centuries ago, and to trace its growth— nourished as it has been with tears and sweat, the blood and anxious care, of the holiest persons in the records of the past. To the true Christian no history is so affecting as that of the Church Universal. His soul unites with the pure and pious, who have clung to it in danger; who have fought beneath the banner of the Cross with spiritual weapons; who have conquered the powers of evil by self sacrifice, suffering, and death.... He feels his personal debt to the faith and loyalty of these tried followers of Christ, and blesses them for those labours of which he daily reaps the fruits. Thus, by memory, we have connexion as truly with the Saints risen in glory, as we have with those yet dwelling here. Though dead, they still speak to us. And happy is it for us when we open our minds to the influences of the departed, and form intimacies with the great and good who have preceded us into the world of peace!"

III.—My friends, I should not have insisted so long upon this Communion between Christians in Heaven and Christians on Earth, did I not think this truth an eminently practical one..." Compassed about by this great cloud of Witnesses," let us with firm and cheerful trust endure all trials, discharge all duties, accept all sacrifices, fulfil the law of universal and impartial love, and adopt as our own that cause of truth, righteousness, humanity, liberty and holiness,— which, being the cause of the All-Good, cannot but triumph over all powers of evil. Let us rise into blest assurance that everywhere and for ever we are enfolded, penetrated, guarded, guided, kept by the power of the Father and Friend, who can never forsake us ; and that all Spirits who have begun to seek, know, love, and serve the All-Perfect ' One on earth, shall be re-united in a Celestial Home, and be welcomed together into the Freedom of the Universe, and the Perpetual Light of His Presence."


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