Wednesday, March 31, 2010

wills demagnetized...

Yesterday, a definition of the will-power.  Today, its "dangers and perversions."  Edmund Sears, "The Will-Power" continued. 

"II. And this leads us on to the second topic — What are its dangers and perversions when left to itself and standing alone.

Its dangers are twofold. And the first is, that it degenerate into self-will or mere wilfulness, which is one of the worst perversions of the mere natural mind. It is manifest in "two ways. It shows itself by sticking upon non-essentials while it leaves out the weightier matters of the law. It will go the whole lengths for the mint, the anise, and the cummin, and even sacrifice unto these justice, mercy, and faith. It would go to the stake merely to have its own way whether right or wrong; and people generally talk the loudest about their consciences when they only mean their self-will. Moreover, when this power degenerates into wilfulness, its demonstrations are always those of passion and self love, and even on the side of right it attempts to serve the altars of God with the fires of hell. A great many cases of martyrdom which men praise, and which have gone into the calendar of saints, will be found, I think, to be nothing else than sheer wilfulness. No Gethsemane has preceded their Calvary ; no descent into the deeps of human weakness ; and therefore they rise no higher than mere bravery, wilful endurance, stoical obstinacy, and dramatic virtue; not to the sublime heights where they reappear in the clothings of Divine Omnipotence.

But a worse danger than that besets this power when standing alone, and that is that it be broken down and destroyed. Oh, there is no sadder spectacle in this world than that of a man whose will has been broken down ; who sees the right, who desires to follow it, and yet when he tries to do it finds himself weaker than an infant at the breast. The intellect may be clear, and the sensibilities may be alive, and there may be all the accomplishments and adorning graces of the outward man, and all the ties of friendship may be twined about him, and all the motives of heaven and hell may lie upon him, and yet some demon has touched the will and broken it, and it is as if the mainspring had been taken out and all the wheels go whirring at random. There is no longer any self-cohesion for that man. He is at the mercy of every temptation that comes, and " his limed soul when struggling to be free is more engaged." " I have a large fortune," said a man to a temperance agent, " but tell me how I can pass that dram-shop without going in and I will give you the whole of it." And here is where sin does its deadliest mischief, and herein lies all the bondage of evil habit. Every repetition of the sin makes the will weaker, till finally its power of volition is gone forever...

But I need not have gone so far, nor have recited an extreme case like this. The reason everywhere why virtue is so feeble is because the will is weak and wayward. All that class of persons that halt between Christ and the world, and do not know to whom they belong themselves, are people whose wills have been demagnetized and hence all their weakness and inefficiency. There is no decision in religion where this is the case, no self-consecration to duty, but a passive floating along as circumstance or accident or pleasure may direct the way. They are creatures of accident or creatures of society, for the sole reason that the will is weak; for when the will is weak the world has us in its power, and a full grown manhood or womanhood is an impossible attainment."


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


After introducing the subject (see here) Edmund Sears discusses the nature of will-power in this continuation of his Lenten sermon by the same name:

"Will, then, is the power of self-cohesion; it is the power of resistance to the changes that take place outside of us. This extends even to the body. With some people the human system imbibes disease as the sponge imbibes water, and they suck in every lurking epidemic from the poisoned air. Others have the power of throwing it off, and it rebounds from them as water does from an oil covering. Dr. Kane was an invalid who travelled for health, and up in the ice regions, with the thermometer at 70° below zero, kept .off the cold from the seat of life, while stronger men were yielding to its death-grasp. It is always the will-people — those who have the power of self-cohesion in largest measure, who in these cases are apt to lead a charmed life in the midst of death.

It is the will that makes a man preeminently what he is. It is the power that sits back of all his other powers and keeps him an integer in the currents and whirls of life. Keep that strong, and all their washings cannot even smooth off the edges of his character. Let that be touched with weakness and he dissolves at once into the elements, and ceases to be an integral force in the universe. And here it is — just here, that the Gospel comes and lays its healthful and healing hand. For if the will is gained, everything else is gained. If that be lost, everything is lost."

Tomorrow, the dangers of the stand-alone will...


Monday, March 29, 2010

not my will, but thine...

Yesterday, following church and cleanup, I happened to pick up "Sermons and Songs of the Christian Life" by Edmund Hamilton Sears (perhaps most famous today as the author of the hymn, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear")  I was struck forcibly by a "sermon in Lent" called, "The Will-power" an exposition of what is to me a deeply central scripture.  Some excerpts:

"Luke xxii. 42. Not my will but thine"

There are two phases of character which appear under the full operation of the Gospel upon the human heart. They seem at first inconsistent, antagonistic, and wholly irreconcilable. First, there is weakness, humility, non-resistance, turning both cheeks to the smiter ; what seems often to a man of the world pusillanimity and cowardice. The Gospel requires of him who receives it to give up his own will. Hence self-abasement, humiliation, and self-surrender are reckoned among the Christian virtues, and hence the apparent weakness it produces as the lion-heart is tamed and made a lamb.

Then again the Gospel in the person of its believers is mighty and aggressive ; and one man clothed in its full power becomes more invincible than an army with banners. Non-resistance, weakness, humiliation disappear, and a single man or a single woman becomes so strong that the forces of an empire may beat against them in vain.

Some have fixed upon one of these phases and some the other, and so from two very opposite stand-points come two classes of objections against the practical value of the Christian faith and confession. These objections are as old as the writers of the second century who assailed the Christian revelation, and they are as new as the disciples of Carlyle who assail it still, in the same way. Unquestionably, it is the blending of these apparent opposites which constitutes the highest human excellence which the Gospel aims to produce. It is Gethsemane alongside of Ascension Mount. It is the complete surrender of our will-power and receiving it back again as no longer ours."

More from this sermon throughout Holy Week.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

the true welcome...

Holy Week is upon us and today, Palm Sunday words by Ephraim Peabody from his "Christian Days and Thoughts."  May the day "bringeth peace" to all. 

"As Christ draws near to us, how shall we welcome him ? It is not enough to rear temples in his name, and to chant hymns in his honor..The true welcome is breathed from the lowly and trusting heart, which, though from afar, looks up and rejoices in the coming footsteps upon the mountains, of Him who bringeth peace. It comes from those, who, in their earthly lot, would follow him in works of usefulness, and in deeds of love. It comes from those who long for a higher purity, a more steadfast righteousness, a more sincere dedication of the life to God and all good ends. In our frailty, we welcome Him 'whose words are strength; in our self-distrusting despondency, we welcome Him whose words are full of hope. In our desires for a better life, we welcome Him who is the true life; and, compassed about by these shadows of mortality, we welcome Him, who stands beside these ranks of graves, " the resurrection and the life."


Friday, March 26, 2010

the first and second thing...

The conclusion of Henry Ware's (unfinished) "Progress of the Christian Life."  Its all about the love...

"Having made some progress in this great work, there is another distinct object which may in the same way command the special attention of the soul, and be made matter of studious and almost exclusive consideration— the predominant affection, namely. This is of not inferior consequence to that just mentioned. That to which the heart is devoted decides the character; and if the character is matter of solicitude, especially is it matter of solicitude to decide what shall be mistress of the heart. Here the case is plain. Love is the first and second thing; love is the fulfilling of the law; he that dwells in love dwells in God. This is the principle that must sway the affections: when it does, the law will be fulfilled, and the soul will dwell with God, without any minute and painful toiling after the petty details of duty. Let this, then, be a distinct study,—the separate and express aim, — until the characteristics of divine love are impressed deeply on the heart, and all meaner affections recognize and bow to its dominion.

Another distinct object must be, to gain an ever-wakeful consciousness of the divine presence. The good child must learn to feel the Father's presence, must never lose sight of his eye; and it is essential to spiritual growth that the spirit human should be always aware of its contact with the Spirit divine. This is to be learned. This must become a habit. And it can only be by making it a subject of distinct study and effort; so that the soul, which the officious senses would restrict to this visible scene of things, may be able to struggle away from them, and look always at the things which are unseen and eternal."


Thursday, March 25, 2010

the long journey...

Brother Ware continues this morning his effort to make the daunting task of creating in ourselves the Christian character more attainable.  Part one of the conclusion of "Progress of the Christian Life"

"Thus we may say, first, this culture of character which you have undertaken is a vast and complicated thing: it is not one thing, but many; and it demands equal watchfulness and effort in many directions, as to the thoughts, the passions, the words, the actions. It demands right affections toward all objects that concern you in this world, and in the invisible world; the proper balance of the affections; the due adjustment of the habits with the principle; the true combination of freedom and restraint, of contemplation with action, of firmness with gentleness. It demands knowledge, self-restraint, watchfulness, and action, in so many directions, on so many subjects, and so unintermittingly, that to undertake the whole at once, to assume the equal charge of all, and attempt their faithful regulation at the same moment, is a task that might well seem desperate. The work must be divided and classified ; the field must be separated into portions ; special attention must be first bestowed on this, and then on that, and the huge labor be facilitated by partition, the long journey accomplished by stages."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

this chase of myself...

A break today from Brother Ware.  Instead I found myself thinking about journal keeping this morning.  Of course New Englanders have a long tradition of fairly intense journal keeping from the Puritans who used them as confessionals to the transcendentalists who almost viewed them as scripture. 
   Do you keep a journal?  Does your blog serve that purpose?  This from Bronson Alcott (a "religious" journal keeper) from his "Concord Days."


COME again into my study, having sat some time for greater comfort in the sunnier east room by an open fire, as needful in our climate, almost, as in that of changeable England. Busy days these last, with a little something to show for them. After all, I am here most at home, and myself surrounded by friendly pictures and books, free to follow the mood of the moment, — read, write, recreate. I wish more came of it all. Here are these voluminous diaries, showy seen from without, with far too little of life transcribed within. Was it the accident of being shown, when a boy, in the old oaken cabinet, my mother's little journal, that set me cut in this chase of myself, continued almost uninterruptedly, and now fixed by habit as a part of the day, like the rising and setting of the sun? Yet it has educated me into whatever skill I possess with the pen, I know not to how much besides; has made me emulous of attaining the art of portraying my thoughts, occupations, surroundings, friendships ; and could I succeed in sketching to the life a single day's doings, should esteem myself as having accomplished the chiefest feat in literature. Yet the nobler the life and the busier, the less, perhaps, gets written, and that which is, the less rewards perusal.

"Life's the true poem could it be writ,
Yet who can live at once and utter it "

All is in the flowing moments. But who shall arrest these and fix the features of the passing person behind the pageantry, and write the diary of one's existence?"

(pictured is Alcott's study, Orchard House, Concord, MA)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

first the blade, then the ear...

One of the great virtues of the "Boston Unitarians" was their joining of lofty moral aspiration with practical modes of attainment.  Today, Brother Ware speaks of the importance of progressing by well defined stages.  Many days I still feel like a blade but occasionally, I can see that full ear of corn (however faintly...)

"The next point, therefore, to be considered is, that religious progress is to be made by stages. It is not merely proceeding, but proceeding from one point to another. It is not merely becoming better, but becoming better first in one respect and then in another.

All progress is from stage to stage. In the processes of nature it is so; — first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear; — a continued growth, but arriving at and passing certain epochs or periods as it proceeds. So in the growth of the human frame, and of the human mind; so in the advancement of society and knowledge. No science can be taught, no art can be learned, except in passing from step to step; one portion must be acquired first as a preparation for another, and the third can be reached only through the full comprehension of the second. Why should religious knowledge and Christian character be exceptions ? Why should we not expect in their pursuit also to find natural steps of advancement, which invite us to aim at one attainment in the first place, and to make that a stepping-stone for the next ? And if our religious progress were divided out for us into portions, would not its accomplishment be more certain and more satisfactory ?

It may not be easy — indeed, it is very difficult—to state distinctly and with philosophical exactness the successive stages of the religious progress; and for this reason, among others, that they cannot be precisely the same to all men. Even the author of that celebrated description of the Christian life which depicts the Pilgrim's Progress, though of a class of believers who have gone as far as any in making Christian experience of the same undeviating type in all individuals— has yet found it necessary to allow great varieties in the several histories which he framed... It is inevitable that, under this state of things, no minute account can be given of the stages of Christian progress which will precisely apply to all persons. We can state nothing more than a few general principles, of whose varying application every man must judge for himself."

(painting is "A Cornfield with Cypresses" by Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, March 22, 2010

get to work...

A happy birthday to Ephraim Peabody who was born on this day in 1807.  See here for more on Peabody with whom I began my Lenten season.  Henry Ware is my current companion through the season and today in the final complete chapter of his unfinished, "Progress of the Christian Life" he moves from describing errors that hinder that progress, to "maxims" that advance it...

From Chapter 6:


Ware begins with with maxim that the religious life must have a beginning and then says...

"Next to this purpose, religious progress demands effort. The purpose must not die in inaction ; it must not, as, alas ! is too frequently the case, waste itself in reverie and musing. That dreamy state of the mind, which loves to dwell in contemplation, — to sit with the eyes half closed and gaze on the visions of glory which the fancy brings before it, — to think of the admirable things that may be done, and the grand designs which it would be delightful to accomplish, — is an unprofitable state, and does little to advance the character. It is likely to enervate rather than to improve it. No purpose is of any value which does not ripen into action; and the ever-present purpose of Christian progress is nought, unless accompanied by ever active effort.

Inaction is the death of all virtue, the palsy of the character. It accounts satisfactorily for the backwardness and meanness of Christian men in Christian attainments. One might almost fancy, from the sluggishness with which men hold their faith, that, in adopting the gospel as their hope and rule, they had simply placed themselves on board some convenient vessel sent for their deliverance, and now were quietly to float down the gentle stream to the great city of their rest; instead of which, all experience and all revelation teach them, that they are embarked on a wide and perilous ocean, where they must watch and toil, and where they can make no progress except they make effort.

Our infatuation on this point is dreadful. Nothing else comes without labor and perseverance. Learning, accomplishments, distinction, wealth, — they are all earned ; and no man who desires them hesitates to pay for them the full price, enormous as it sometimes is, at which alone they can be possessed. But that greatest and highest attainment, a perfect human character, is to come of itself. The calm peace of self-government,— the holy luxury of heavenly-mindedness — the lofty and complacent dignity of spiritualized affections — the honor of being like God, and glory of entering with Jesus Christ into immortal purity and love, — this we expect to obtain by wishing: this vast acquisition, this unlimited and illimitable boon, we look at, we admire, we long for, we do not doubt we shall possess; and yet we make for it nothing like the effort which we make to get bread for our children and ornaments to our houses."


Sunday, March 21, 2010

the pleasure of small triumphs...

Brother Ware finishes his Chapter 5 struggle between principle and habit this morning.  Have a wonderful Sabbath everyone.

"The Progress of the Christian Life"

"To make this yet the more sure, let him take pains directly to aid and encourage his principle; not only by bringing it forward and making it active on great emergencies, but by allowing it, nay, calling on it, to exert itself constantly; giving it small tasks; cheering it by the pleasure of small triumphs; and, in a word, by making even those lesser offices of duty and kindness, — which other men do of course, and without thinking, — by making even them matters of principle, — turning them into thoughtful acts of religious obedience, doing them because they are consonant to faith, and are suitable to a spiritual and holy nature — whether he eats or drinks, or whatever he does, doing all to the glory of God, as to the Lord, and not to men. In this way, the full power of habit and all its noblest energies may be enlisted on the side of his improvement. Because, principle being often called into action, and being made the supreme deciding authority, more frequently than any thing else, the habit of acting from principle will become stronger than any other habit; will overcome, suppress, exclude every hostile habit: the opposition between principle and habit, which once so palsied the purpose and neutralized the efforts of virtue, will have ceased; and the forces once antagonistic having become united in the alliance of truth, having become in fact one, there can be no longer any serious impediment to the onward progress of the soul. "Being made free from sin, ye will become servants to God, and have your fruit unto holiness."


Saturday, March 20, 2010

give goodness a chance...

A unified life that will facilitate...virtuous purposes" is called for by Henry Ware as he continues to discuss habits in Chapter 5 of "Progress of the Christian Life."

"He is especially to learn the great duty of seeing to it, from the first, that all his personal and social habits, his disposition of time, the order of his affairs, the customs of his daily life and business, be such as to facilitate his virtuous purposes,— such as to make devotion and religion easy to him, — such as to make holy thoughts and benevolent actions always in place, never incongruous, never irksome, because evidently in the way of other affairs. By this method, he should give to goodness the fairest chance of obtaining a complete ascendancy over him. Principle, finding all the habits of life and mind congenial, would thrive, and strengthen, and assume the complete mastery."


Friday, March 19, 2010

the happiness of deliverance...

Yesterday, Brother Ware talked of the power of habit and today, after listing some of the most common and destructive bad habits (drunkenness, sloth, ill-temper, and procrastination) he offers some hope:

"Other instances any one can add. And they suggest the fearful question, which almost staggers our hope as we reply to it — whether, in sober truth, a confirmed ill habit be not incurable, and whether virtue have any prospect of gaining in the conflict.

The best answer is found in the appeal to opposite facts. The worst habits in the most desperate cases, and under the most unpromising circumstances, have been corrected. The history of the Christian religion is filled with examples. It has shown its divine power in these triumphs, and proved, by the wonderful trophies of its grace, in the amazing conversions from sin which it has wrought, that however desperate may seem to be the struggle between principle and habit, yet the good is the stronger, and must prevail in the end, whenever it is faithfully and perseveringly supported.

But how much faith and what long perseverance it demands!
From these extreme cases, then, the Christian, who is seeking improvement, must take both a warning and encouragement — a warning that he examine his condition, and be fully acquainted with every circumstance in his modes of life which threatens this ruinous ascendancy over his principle; and an encouragement that, if he detect any which is interwoven with his whole being, so that to part with it is like parting with a right hand or right eye, he yet is able to do it, and to enjoy the happiness of deliverance."

(Note:  Ware's language concerning esp. alcoholism is decidedly of the 19th century-please adjust accordingly!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

unpropitious habits...

Henry Ware Jr. warns of the power of habit in this continuation of "Progress of the Christian Life"

"Remarks to the same purpose may be made respecting the relation which subsists between principle and habit. Habit is a thing of tremendous power: it is sometimes omnipotent in man; and it is of the greatest consequence that its energies be as much as possible, and as easily as possible, secured on the side of virtue. It may be the greatest helper or the greatest hindrance to improvement. It was intended to be the former; and yet to how many, through life, does it prove the latter ! In how many men does virtue make toilsome growth, because clogged, thwarted, depressed, by unfortunate habits! — habits formed in early life, established in the flesh, rooted in the affections, woven into the daily routine of conduct, till they become a part of the very nature; and the poor wretch whom they enthral is bound down to a miserable insignificance of character, and yet is wholly unaware of their deleterious predominance. They arc habits, for example, of luxurious living, of perpetual personal indulgence, of slothfulness, of mental inaction; they are around him like a heavy and deadening atmosphere, through which his spirit has to make its way upward, and by which its flight is perpetually retarded. It has always been so, and he does not know it; or, if he knows it, how difficult to enforce the remedy ! But in most instances he has no conception of the true nature of the evil which hinders him; is not, perhaps, even aware of his grievous want of alacrity and progress — like the perpetual invalid, who has borne about with him from time immemorial a seated disorder which enfeebles him, but has no violent symptoms, and who still engages in all the general duties of life, without the vigor and delight that other men know, but with all the vigor and delight that he ever knew, and therefore without any consciousness of the extent of his own deficiency ; and who never can be conscious how far he is below the vigor and spirits of other men, except by being delivered from his ailment and made like other men. So is it with him whose moral power is palsied by the unpropitious habits I have referred to: he never can know the degree in which they are an injury to him, until, having thrown them off, he sees how rapidly he rises without them."


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

lamentable inconsistencies...

We left Brother Ware in his "Progress of the Christian Life" speaking of the importance of a devotional life and spirit.  But that, of course, is not enough.  That spirit must animate our "active life" as well.  Chapter 5 continued: 

"Thus far, well. But the character is not yet complete: the habits of his active life make part of it. And what are they ? Do they correspond with this internal frame? Are they in harmony with these principles and sentiments?

We are ready at first to ask, " How can they be otherwise ? " But we are soon reminded that it is often even so. It is common to witness lamentable inconsistencies between the feelings and the conduct. Some men appear to live two lives. They seem to have two souls. In private thought and in familiar converse they are devout men. Their sensibilities are quick ; their emotions are strong; their sense of God lively; and they greatly enjoy their seasons of devotion and reading. But in the routine of life they are worldly, grasping, self-indulgent, devoted to gain, neglectful of trusts and duties, and far inferior to many who have no religious sensibility, who find little enjoyment in retirement and reflection, but who have accustomed themselves to the most scrupulous fidelity in every passing hour of social life.

It is to be with you, therefore, a matter of study and effort to carry the sentiment of the closet into action. The life of contemplation must not contradict the life of action. It is but partially that character is formed which is formed only by thinking, musing, and purposing. It wants the completeness of active habits. It wants the test which is to be found only in life. It wants the principle of growth which can be found only in action. And this is what is particularly to be considered in this connection — action is an essential and all-important means of religious growth; so much so, that even the contemplative graces, the virtues of the mind, true affection, exalted principle, benevolent dispositions, — which we are ready to believe thrive best in solitude; to cultivate which, multitudes have shut themselves out from the world, that they might have nothing to do but to meditate, read, and pray, —even these fail of their true perfection unless quickened and ripened by action. For consider a moment. When the mind is thus excited and glowing with divine truth and virtuous thoughts, is it not all so much impulse to do something I Does not the desire spring up spontaneously, prompting to act, — that is, to express itself? But there is no opportunity to act, and the impulse is denied. It is excited again, and again denied. What is the consequence ? It is enfeebled. It becomes less and less strong. It fades and dies from the soul."


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the middling classes...

This an excerpt from a letter written by William Ellery Channing to a young Henry Ware Jr. who is frustrated with the difficulties of building a Unitarian Church in New York (that church would someday call as its first minister, Ware's brother William, and is now known, of course, as the Unitarian Church of All Souls) 

"Boston, June 16, 1819. " My Dear Sir,

" Your letter has been strangely delayed. I have just received it, and therefore may have seemed negligent of your request of advice and encouragement. You remember the language of the Psalmist, ' Why art thou cast down, O my soul ? Hope in God..' I regret that you have not more to animate you; but the true use of difficulties is at once to confirm our devout submission, and to call forth conscientious exertion. There is a satisfaction in adhering to a good cause, when it droops, as well as when it prospers. We have but one question to settle ; Are we preaching God's truth ? are we holding forth a purer system of Christianity than that which prevails ? are we inculcating doctrines, which, if believed, will make men better, and fit them more surely for future happiness ? If we believe this, we must not sink ; for, if our convictions be true, our cause is God's, and will prevail; and, if we err, our sincere aim to serve him will be accepted, and will be over ruled to good...

" As to the style of preaching, it should be distinctive and earnest. We should mark plainly, openly, in direct language, and by strong contrast, the difference of our views from those which prevail, letting this difference appear in our discourses, on ordinary as well as disputed subjects ; but we should always let men see that we hold our distinguishing views to be important, only because they tend to vital and practical godliness. We should give them to men as means and motives to a Christian life ; teaching them how to use them as helps to virtue ;—and we should always assail the opposite sentiments as unfriendly to the highest virtue, and earnestly and affectionately warn men against them, as injuring their highest interests. I have but one more remark. Christ preached to the poor; and, I think, that no system bears the stamp of his religion, or can prevail, which is not addressed to the great majority of men.

" I do not wish to see a Unitarian Society in New York, made up of rich, fashionable, thoughtless people. I wish friends and adherents, who will be hearty and earnest; and I believe these qualities may be found mainly in the middling classes. Can no inquiry be instituted among these to learn whether they are favorably disposed to your object ?

My sincere regards and best wishes to all our friends. I wish to hear often. Your affectionate brother,

WM. E. Channing"


Monday, March 15, 2010

the sentiment of devotion...

I have written before of this central Boston Unitarian virtue, balance. It is perhaps one their most characteristic traits. Henry Ware Jr. speaks of this balance in Chapter 5 of his "Progress of the Christian Life.:"

"In order to the successful use of the means of religious progress, so that they shall truly operate to a religious growth, it is essential so to employ them as to create an equal, healthy development of the character in all its parts, so as to avoid the inconsistency and distortion which are the co sequence of too exclusive devotion to some, and the comparative neglect of others. A perfectly well proportioned religious character is rarely to be found; but for that very reason it should be the more anxiously desired.

Character is constituted of the state of the mind and affections, and the habits of life. These ought all to be in harmony with each other, — directed by the same principles, exhibiting the same features, wearing the same complexion. If they disagree, there is a painful discordance perceived; something is wrong; there is neglect of duty, blame somewhere.

Now, the means of cultivating and perfecting the right state of mind and affections are, primarily, meditation and prayer, and those mental exercises of contemplation, self-examination and study, by which the soul is directly wrought upon and raised to a spiritual fervor. Thus it approaches to God, cherishes holy and benevolent desires, and comes to love and enjoy the things that are unseen and eternal. And when, from the seasons of contemplation and thought, the man goes into the scenes of active life, he carries with him this propensity to goodness, these desires to do well. He goes with a mind imbued with the sentiment of devotion, and the spirit of dutifulness."


Sunday, March 14, 2010

run with patience...

Some good words from Henry Ware Jr. on growth,  perseverance, and judging yourself "by a right standard."  May all have a blessed Sabbath. 

"Let the Christian, then, not be deceived. Let him be sure that he judges himself by a right standard. It is true that he ought not to be too easily satisfied of his improvement; but neither ought he to be discouraged through an irrational regard and judgment of his moral condition. When the oak was just springing from the ground, and rearing its stem in the increase of its first tender season, its growth of but twelve inches above the soil, whereon nothing but decayed leaves was manifest before, appeared conspicuous and considerable; but now that it has waved its branches in the sunshine and winds of threescore summers, and sheltered two generations of men with its beneficent shadow, and nurtured innumerable tribes of living creatures in its kindly arms, it may add the same measure of increase in a year to each of its hundred gigantic limbs, with no perceptible enlargement; its real growth has been a hundred-fold what it was when most conspicuous to men, but no one observes or appreciates it. So it is with the Christian character: the more advanced its stages, the nearer it attains to perfection, its actual improvement, though greater than in the beginning, may nevertheless be less perceptible.

In view of the discouragements alluded to in this chapter, and of all others that might be enumerated, I would say to him who has really entered on a religious life, " You have taken the only rational course, the only safe course, the only truly happy course: persevere unto the end; run with patience the race that is set before you; fight the good fight, keep the faith, lay hold on eternal life. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."


Saturday, March 13, 2010

"the young apostle of the world-wide hope...

The very title of this blog is evidence that I have tended to focus on the Unitarian side of our great history.  This is meant as no slight to our Universalist roots and I periodically resolve to read more in the Universalist tradition.  A couple of days ago, I was helping to weed out some old books at the wonderful library and center for the arts that is a part of our church and came across six or seven Universalist works and yesterday dived into Oscar S. Safford's biography called "Hosea Ballou: A Marvellous Life Story."  As a specimen of the biographical art, it is no doubt lacking but I am very much enjoying it. 
   Here is the Winchester Profession of 1803, a foundational Creedal statement:
"We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men."


Friday, March 12, 2010

the nearer it approaches to perfection...

Henry Ware Jr. talks about frustration with too-slow growth:

"The Christian is very frequently disheartened, not only at finding less excitement and rapturous enjoyment in the religious life than he expected, but also at not discovering such obvious marks of progress in the advancing stages as at the commencement. But it is a very important truth for him who is going forward in the Christian life to remember, that the growth of character follows, in many respects, the analogy of all other growth. In its beginnings it is more perceptible ; its progress in its first stages is more striking : an extraordinary difference is in a very short time noticed, after a man has positively changed from worldliness to religion. But the succeeding steps become by-and-by less perceptible; and though actual, perhaps equal progress may be made in a more advanced state of the Christian course, yet the work may seem to be almost stationary. An illustration of this may be found in the different appearances of motion in the rising and the meridian sun; the former seeming to advance with rapidity, the latter hardly to move. Or take, for comparison, a work of art, a painting. The artist takes a blank and unmeaning canvass. He sketches the outlines of his beautiful subject. A very short time suffices to exhibit great progress. The whole form and features come rapidly into view. But, as he approaches towards the finishing of his work, he labors the more delicate parts — he retouches, refines, perfects; but it all makes little show : in truth, there may be more and more careful study, and anxious toil, and the highest efforts of his genius, and yet the amount of labor and thought, and the degree of improvement, be perceptible to none but a most observing and practised eye. So it is with the Christian character the nearer it approaches to perfection : there may be great watchfulness, laborious self-discipline, toil for advancement, and a perpetual addition of those delicate strokes, those hues and shades of spiritual beauty, by which perfection is attained ; but no change shows itself, meanwhile, to the common observer; the Christian seems to others precisely where he was a month ago, and he himself may be dissatisfied at not perceiving any obvious marks of growth corresponding with his arduous labors."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

calm peace, rather than a tumultuous delight...

Before moving to Massachusetts, we lived in New York state, within a short walk of the Hudson River.  Our front porch afforded a wonderful view of Storm King Mountain which became for me the natural representation of calm contentment.  Henry Ware Jr. speaks of this state in Chapter 4 of his "Progress of the Christian Life"

"Among the hindrances against which the young Christian may need to be put on his guard, we may mention, next, that arising from false expectations respecting the enjoyment of a religious life. The opening views of a religious existence are like those of youth, bright with vague anticipations of the future, full of gay dreams, romantic and visionary expectations. It is the youth of the soul, excited, ardent, confident, and painting the future in colors too uniformly gorgeous to be true. Not that any extravagance of expectation can exceed the actual happiness which the Christian realizes in his established faith. Young Christians do not, for they cannot, expect too much; but they expect — as the Scripture says " they ask — amiss." They err as to the nature more than as to the degree of enjoyment. They look for it in excitement, in strong emotion, in ecstasy, in rapture. They expect to be forever in the same glowing frame of bliss in which they are now, while the subject is all new and their feelings all fresh...

It becomes important, therefore, that the beginner should understand the nature both of Christian duty and of Christian happiness, that he may count the cost before he begins, and not fail through false and unreasonable expectations.
Let him consider, then, that Christian duty is conformity to a law, and Christian happiness the result of that conformity. This law governs the affections, as well as the conduct; determines the whole state of mind and feeling, as well as of life; and it is only when mind and feeling are conformed to this law that the man is in the way of Christian duty, — only then, therefore, that he is to expect happiness. And what happiness? That which belongs to the consciousness of having done duty ; that which grows out of and appertains to the state of mind which is attained; — and that will be, of course, satisfaction, contentment, rather than ecstasy. The consciousness of being right, the assurance of the favor of God, — these, being abiding and habitual impressions on the mind, are likely to produce a calm peace, rather than a tumultuous delight."

(Painting: "Storm King" by Homer Dodge Martin)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

expression of the religious heart...

Henry Ware continues on the importance of the means of religion...

"Now, religion is a certain state of mind, heart, and character; but if there be no manifestation of this state in action, neither the individual himself nor other men could be assured of its existence and reality. But what are the expressions, what the manifestations, of religion? The most natural, perhaps the most spontaneous, the most indubitable, is prayer. It is the expression of the religious heart to its God. It is the language of the devout mind. It is the action of the pious spirit. I cannot conceive, therefore, that any one should esteem prayer simply a means of religion. It is a part of religion. It is an inalienable concomitant. And it is represented, throughout the Scriptures, more frequently as an essential act of religion, — inseparable from and inherent in a devout character, — than as a means of increasing the devotional temper, or of spiritual improvement.

The same is true concerning the Christian ordinances. To express faith and newness of spirit by baptism, and to commune with the Savior at his table, are in themselves religious actions. To read the Scriptures, and devoutly meditate on the truth of God, and worship in his house, and listen to the preaching of his word, are religious acts, expressions of a religious character, no less than means of increasing in Christian knowledge and holiness.

It is, therefore, far from true that, in neglecting religious observances, we merely postpone the means to the end. They constitute, in their very nature, parts of that which we seek to achieve. They are natural expressions, manifestations, of the religious character; and one can hardly be authorized in imagining himself to possess that character, if it do not thus display itself."

(painting:  Old Man in Prayer by Rembrandt Harmensz)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

utterly ruinous...

Kari has a fine "rant" over at chalice spark asking why go to church.  It is becoming more and more prevalent to call oneself  'spiritual but not religious" but, as Henry Ware Jr. reminds us, that tends to be an excuse and really living there is the preserve of the near saintly.  And that isn't me.  So I will continue to be religious in the service of the spirit...Henry Ware Jr. and the "Progress of the Christian Life" continued:

"There is, undoubtedly, a distinction to be made between religion and the means of religion— a distinction, the want of attention to which has led to great abuses, and been the parent of fanaticism and superstition. Forms and ceremonies have been exaggerated into the essentials of faith; opinions have been made to take the place of character, and days and observances have usurped the respect which should have been paid to righteousness and true piety. In order to avoid this error of times past, it has become a favorite notion with many, that religion only, should have attention and honor — pure, unmixed, unaccompanied religion...

Common as something like this may be in the thoughts of many and the practice of more, it is yet wholly indefensible as a matter of reasoning, and utterly ruinous when applied to practice. Here and there a man may be found who can live on these principles uninjured; but they are extraordinary men ; the great majority would infallibly be destroyed by them.

They lead to a disregard of religious services, which will extend, in too many instances, to a disregard of religion itself, and will often inevitably cause the Christian character to fall into decay, because the props which are necessary to support it are removed. So serious an evil deserves to be carefully considered. There can be little hope of general advancement or great attainment in religion, when such opinions are prevalent...

(Note: My other blog, Wonderful Epoch has evolved from a celebration of Margaret Fuller and James Freeman Clarke during this the bicentennial year of their birth, to a daily posting from "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love" a posthumous collection of the writings of James Freeman Clarke designed as a daily devotional.  This is not a slight of Margaret Fuller (who has more than one committee-one of which I serve-celebrating her anniversary.)  Longtime readers of this blog know that James Freeman Clarke is a "hero" of mine and this blog is my small way of promoting his contribution.) 

(Painting:  Childe Hassam's "Church at Old Lyme")

Monday, March 8, 2010

loose thinking...

Today Henry Ware's response to the (now trendy) idea of being spiritual and not religious.  This from Chapter 111 of his "Progress of the Christian Life."

"I Have endeavored to expose the mistake of those who dream that the religious life has no beginning. I now turn to those who fancy that it may be sustained and supported without the use of means.

In stating their error thus, there is absurdity on its very face, so great that it may be supposed impossible for any one to maintain such a position. And perhaps to the full extent none will venture to maintain it in terms, though we certainly hear language which very nearly approaches the statement I have made, and daily witness conduct which is consistent with no other principle than that which such a statement involves. In fact, it is the tendency of the speculations and the practice of the day to make light of forms, to undervalue modes of operation, to speak of times, persons, places, ceremonies, as unessential, material, instrumental, — as crutches for the lame, leading-strings for the weak, guides for babes, — quite necessary to those who are so far wedded to the body that it clogs and impedes their minds, but wholly unnecessary to the soul itself; in fact, as badges of an inferior condition, as marks of spiritual backwardness, as the remnants of an earthly dispensation, and relics of the infancy of our race, which are fast becoming unnecessary in this enlightened age, and which the truly enlightened had best dispense with at once.

There is a good deal of loose thinking and talking of this sort. It is founded on a misapprehension of the real nature of the advancement of man in the present world; as if cultivation and religion were making an actual change, not in his condition and advantages, but his very nature; relieving him of his dependence on the body, the senses, and the material world. Whereas, evidently, he must retain still his connection with them, his relation to them, and must be affected by them in his desires, appetites, habits, enjoyments, character — must act through them, and be acted on by them; and so long as this is so, it is perfectly impossible that he should be able to maintain a purely spiritual existence, or to advance his spiritual character, without aid from abroad. While this connection with the outward world perpetually operates on him to affect his temper and distract his affections, it is necessary to counteract it by agents and contrivances which also operate outwardly. While, every day, appetite must be indulged at stated hours, business done, and exciting thoughts, interests, and passions absorb his mind, he must every day have stated means of neutralizing their engrossing and infecting power, or they will obtain the mastery."


Sunday, March 7, 2010

heavy rubbish...

We left Brother Ware bemoaning that class of "nominal Christians" who believe that they are growing just by virtue of living.  On this Sabbath morning, his remedy:

"Here, therefore, I propose to my readers, that they institute a solemn and thorough self-examination...

Let him ascertain whether he has actually made a religious beginning. If not, let him waste no time in studying how to make advancement. He has an earlier and more important work — to remove away all the heavy rubbish which, through his self-deception and long blindness, has been accumulating about him, and lay in earnest the foundation of a hearty faith, and a holy, heavenly character. If he is not sure that he has already begun the Christian life, let him begin now, to-day, with a prayerful determination, with a devoted purpose, with a heartfelt self-consecration to God, and Christ, and duty. Let him leave this great matter no longer in suspense, this most momentous question no longer open, but let him bring his real character and his hidden motives into the light — the clear light of truth — by taking devoutly and resolutely the first grand step, by performing the initiatory act of intelligently, distinctly, and with a single heart, dedicating himself to the service of his heavenly Master."

Have a blessed Sabbath

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Ralph Waldo was a carrier for the Central Intelligence Agency-this communique from the essay "Success:"

"Self-trust is the first secret of success, the belief that, if you are here, the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are well and successful...

Is there no loving of knowledge, and of art, and of our design, for itself alone ? Cannot we please ourselves with performing our work, or gaining truth and power, without being praised for it ? I gain my point, I gain all points, if I can reach my companion with any statement which teaches him his own worth. The sum of wisdom is, that the time is never lost that is devoted to work... is sanity to know, that, over my talent or knack, and a million times better than any talent, is the central intelligence which subordinates and uses all talents; and it is only as a door into this, that any talent or the knowledge it gives is of value. He only who comes into this central intelligence, in which no egotism or exaggeration can be, comes into self-possession."


Friday, March 5, 2010

left to take care of itself...

The limits of the idea of the gradual development of the Christian Life, which was a common theme for many of the Boston Unitarians, is discussed by Henry Ware Jr. today who says it can often be used as justification for doing nothing at all.  From Chapter 2 of "Progress of the Christian Life:"

"Besides the causes of error which are hinted at in the preceding chapter, there are others still more worthy of consideration. Of these I do not know that there is any more common or more detrimental than that which is the subject of this chapter. It is an error which arises naturally from the circumstances of birth and education in a Christian land, and from the idea that under such circumstances the Christian character grows up of course, just as the social does, and perhaps as part of the social. It differs from that before mentioned in this, that, while that supposed the Christian character something to be formed by a certain process in a certain time, — to be done by the job and finished at once, — this supposes that it is never any thing to be taken up as a distinct subject of attention, or to be made an express concern; but is to be left to take care of itself, under those influences to which all are subjected, and beneath which it will grow up spontaneously. This is a common error; it infects the great mass of nominal Christians; it deceives and paralyzes even conscientious men, and keeps them from all progress by persuading them that the soul will grow of itself, as the body does.

It has no doubt been fostered by the manner in which the axiom has been received, that all safe progress is gradual, that whatever is violent and sudden is unnatural and unsafe — an axiom true in itself, when rightly understood, but very falsely applied in the present instance. Is not the progress of the day gradual, it is asked, and the progress of the seasons imperceptible ? Does not the seed germinate and spring forth without our being able to detect or trace it; growing night and day, we know not how; first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear ? Are not all the beneficent operations of Providence and nature thus? — never rapid, vehement, instantaneous, but always gentle, quiet, gradual? And, satisfied with this analogy, we sit down to wait the advancement of our character, just as we wait the progress of the season; as if we had only to sit and wait; to do nothing to hasten or retard it; as if its course was onward as inevitably as fate. We do not perceive that we advance; but no matter: who sees the sun advance on the dial-plate? We have no consciousness of being in motion ; but, then, who sees the motion of the planets, or the increase of the blade of corn? We are making no efforts: certainly not; for a growth, to be healthy, must not be forced. Who would have the sickly and short-lived produce of the hotbed ?

But even if we chose to follow strictly the analogy between the insensible universe and the living moral soul, this mode of reasoning is unjustifiable. If we do not see the day come forward with our eyes, we perceive clearly, after an interval, that it has come forward; and though our keenest sight does not detect the growth of the plant, we yet do see that it has grown; and we should be extremely unhappy if the opening dawn should become stationary, or the grain and fruit should pause in the process of ripening."


Thursday, March 4, 2010

faithful contemplation...

After discussing some common errors, Henry Ware Jr. concludes the first chapter of his "Progress of the Christian Life" with a passionate call for study, cultivation, and action:

"For which reason, instead of looking at the state of society, instead of conforming yourself to the model of those with whom you live, study into the nature and capacity of your soul, your destiny, and your responsibility ; imbue your mind with the spirit of your immortal faith, and the influence of the character of your holy Master; and from the promptings of a soul thus filled and kindled, act out Christianity for yourself; — not as others do, nor as others expect you to do, but as this state of mind impels you. There is no true and safe course but to be obedient to these suggestions of a mind which has faithfully studied for itself into the doctrine and temper of the divine life. These suggestions are to it as the instinct of its immortal nature — as unerring, as safe, as the instincts of the lower orders of beings. Man's bodily instincts are as nothing, for his bodily interests are of little moment, and in pursuing them he has no need of an infallible guide. But the interests of his undying soul are of infinite consequence : in his search for them he needs an infallible guide; and that guide he has in the promptings of his own mind, whenever he has cultivated it with the deep study of truth and faith, and steeped it by faithful contemplation in the secrets of divine love and infinite purity, and brought it into intimate communion with the Holy Spirit of God. If you have truly acquainted yourself with your Master and his revelation, — if you have entered into their spirit with your whole soul,—then act yourself, freely, boldly, and you will not know what it is to stop short. This very action will be progress."


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

keep the work in progress...

I think one of the greatest lessons we can learn is that of the transient nature of our affections and the deep necessity of plain perseverance.  Henry Ware Jr. makes the point in this continuation of "Progress of the Christian Life:"

"There are also some mistaken notions respecting religion itself which may lead to the same error; the idea, namely, which so readily finds a welcome in the mind which is glowing with the first happiness of its early faith, that its glow cannot fade away; that things will always appear to the soul just as they do at that divine moment,- that the new taste is fixed, and cannot be changed; that it will take care of itself. Hazardous and unfounded as such a feeling is, it is yet very natural. It belongs to all strong emotion to have faith in its own perpetuity. The affections always are confident that they never shall change; and we always fancy that the grief, or love, or indignation, which fills our bosoms now, can never fade from them...

This is the conviction which occasions the well-known confidence and presumption of young converts, which prompts to their proverbial forwardness — a confidence and forwardness often attributed to unworthy motives, and spoken of to their discredit. It may not be creditable to them; yet it argues nothing worse, perhaps, than self-ignorance. They do not know the evanescent character of the feelings, the deceitfulness of the heart ; therefore they give way to it; they trust themselves; they spread all their sails to the wind, as if it would never change; they fancy themselves established, and act warmly and boldly, as if established. But this glow is necessarily transient, like all vehement feeling ; and when it has passed away, they have no abiding principle of life to take its place and keep the work in progress. Other feelings rise up in the midst of the world; the brightness of the spiritual light fades from before the eye of the soul, and there is no advancement to a higher perfection.

Let no one, therefore, from the strength and security of his first affections, allow himself to rest, as if the work were done. It is but begun. Let him settle within himself, deeply and sternly, the persuasion that it is to be going on while life lasts. For want of this it is that the love of so many has waxed cold, and that so many who put their hand to the plough have turned back. If you would persevere, you must understand, at the outset, the necessity of perseverance. You must start with the conviction that you begin a perpetual progress."


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

eager and panting for success...

Henry Ware Jr. begins his "Progress of the Christian Life" with a discussion of common errors held by many respecting the acquisition of Christian Character.  This from Chapter One:

"Nothing can be plainer than that the Christian character is a thing to be acquired and to be improved; yet it is evident that many do not so regard it. If we may judge from their conduct, the number is not small of those who esteem it something which belongs to them just as the body does, and to be kept alive and in health just like that, by living along from day to day, as the circumstances of each day may suggest, but not to be the subject of any special regard...

It is not so in other matters. We look around us on the community, and we see it in a state of commotion and advancement. Its prosperity is a wonder to us, and that prosperity is progress. Every one is pushing forward. Every one is eager and panting for success...

This is common. But meantime — even if they account themselves Christians, and remember that they have an eternity as well as a family to provide for — they have not dreamed of exhibiting any proportionate advancement of character ; it has not occurred to them that their piety should have grown with their estate; that their charities should have been as much greater than formerly as their income has become larger; that, as they have been rising in the world, they should have risen also toward heaven. In the eye of the world, they are better dressed and better lodged, and they move in a more fashionable and intellectual circle; but in the eye of God, in their preparation for heaven, they are just where they were...

How salutary might it prove to every one whom Providence has blessed with an increase of goods, if, at every enlargement of his style of living, he should devote one day to searching into his spiritual progress, and resolve never to erect a new house, or introduce a higher indulgence to his domestic economy, until he could honestly say, that he was as much improved in character as in fortune!...

Amid this universal and earnest struggle for the outside life, the inner life is neglected ; and very good men are entirely content to be no better, who could ill brook to be no richer...


Monday, March 1, 2010

indefinite progress...

I have been casting about somewhat this Lenten Season for a particular devotional reading project.  Ephraim Peabody has been a good companion but the next sermon in his "Christian Thoughts and Days" is for Palm Sunday and I don't like to read ahead! So I turn this morning to Henry Ware Jr.and his "Progress of the Christian Life." "Progress" is the (uncompleted) sequel to Ware's "Formation of the Christian Character," a work of great importance to me.  Excerpting it was one of my first projects after taking up blogging and it (along with more Ware) can be found here. 

"Progress of the Christian Life"

The following pages are designed as a sequel to the little work on the Formation of the Christian Character, and are supposed to be addressed to the same persons. When one has adopted the Christian faith as his rule of life, and begun in earnest his religious existence, it is still but the commencement of a career in which an indefinite progress is to be made, and which is to continue forever. As long as man is imperfect, there is room for improvement. As long as he is in the flesh, there is occasion for watchfulness and struggling against temptation. There is need that his principles become more and more fixed, his conscience more and more enlightened and controlling, his passions more thoroughly obedient to the law of righteousness, and his whole temper and demeanor more steadfastly conformed to the example of Christ. In a word, he is to grow in grace. Advancement is his duty, perfection his aim."