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"



Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thanks so much.

Robin Edgar said...

Forgive me for saying so Boston Unitarian, but this letter written by William Ellery Channing would seem to indicate that the problem of "rich, fashionable, thoughtless people" choosing the fate of joining the Unitarian Church and what is now known as The U*U Movement goes back at least a couple of centuries.

Plus ├ža change. . . ;-)

slt said...

And thank you for writing. I was really struck by this letter and am glad that you feel the same.
Blessings, BU