Monday, January 31, 2011

Ipissima verba!

Henry Ware Jr. on Quoting the Bible, found in an 1862 issue of "The Monthly Religious Magazine"

"Good Henry Ware the younger used to give familiar lectures, or rather talks, to his classes in the Theological School on all subjects pertaining to pastoral duty and the Christian life. We remember one of these talks on the quotation of Scripture. It occurred after one of the debates in Divinity Hall, where some of the speakers had appealed to Scripture authority, quoting the Bible rather loosely, attempting to give the substance of a passage without giving its precise language, or commencing a passage and ending with "and so forth." After the debate closed, the Professor gave one of his pungent criticisms on the use of Scripture. Sitting in his chair, he began in his low tones, growing more earnest, till his pale face lighted up almost with indignation at such loose or careless use of the words of the Bible. "When you undertake to quote the Bible," said he, "don't try to give the substance of a passage, or end with 'and so forth.' You ought to be familiar enough with it to know what it says; and whenever you appeal to it, be sure you quote it Ipsissima Verba."

Ipissima Verba (the very words) rang in our ears as we left the hall, and has sounded there ever since whenever we quoted the Bible."


Sunday, January 30, 2011

stupid indolence...

This prayer for Sunday morning by William Henry Furness from his book "Domestic Worship"

"What shall we render unto Thee, O God, for thy countless benefits, for days and weeks crowned with thy favour, for the means of grace and the hope of eternal glory! Thou hast dealt bountifully with us. Another Sabbath brings us tokens of infinite love. May it prove a Sabbath indeed, a day of rest from all harassing cares, a day of faithful self-communion and of fervent prayer. And when the sun sets in the west, may the Sun of righteousness still shine with steady, unclouded, life-giving brightness upon our hearts, and never set. May no earthborn thoughts obstruct its healing beams, but, enlightened by the truth, may we worship Thee this day in the beauty of holiness. Let not the world have power to intrude upon our meditations, and distract our minds and close them against thy gracious influence. Blessed be this day, thrice blessed, in the opportunities it offers, in the good resolutions it witnesses, in the strength it shall give us to meet all the coming duties and trials of life!
Father of all, Thou hast never left the world without witness of thyself. Thou hast always given men rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with joy and gladness. But Thou hast manifested thy providence still more expressively in the provision Thou hast made for our immortal nature. At different times and in various ways Thou didst speak unto the fathers by the prophets, raising up inspired men to turn thy children from their iniquities, to entreat them to forsake every form of sin, and saying unto them by the lips of thy holy servants, O do not this abominable thing which I hate.' And in the fulness of time Thou didst send thy Son Jesus Christ into the world, the brightness of thy glory, the very image of thy perfection. Through him Thou didst announce thine infinite good will, and throw wide open the way of life. He has shown us, by his life and his death, where lies our everlasting peace: even in lowliness of mind, in devotion to thy will and the good of all men, in a readiness to sacrifice all things, even life itself, for the sake of truth and right. The path of duty which he disclosed, blessed be thy name! is bright with the illumination of his steps. To us of this distant age and country, the precious records of his gospel have been transmitted. We praise Thee for its heavenly light, for its all-sufficient guidance, and its immortal hope.
What manner of love is this that we, heedless and unprofitable as we are, should be called to the rich inheritance of the children of God! O may we live as children of the light and of the day. May the power of thy truth penetrate and purify and mould our whole characters, quickening our sense of right, increasing our desire of goodness, until it becomes our ruling principle of action. Let us not flatter ourselves that we are Christians in thy sight, merely because we conform to the outward services of the Christian faith, but may we consider that they only are true believers who believe with the heart unto righteousness, and whose faith is shown by good works, works of justice and mercy. Whatsoever things are pure, honest and lovely — whatsoever things are true and just, may these things be ours. May we think on them and do them. Let our whole conduct be a religious service, our whole life a sabbath. To this end we invoke thy blessing on this day.
Let us not spend this holy season in stupid indolence, forsaking thy house, or entering it in mere conformity to custom. But may we bear in mind the greatness of the privilege we enjoy in being permitted to worship Thee according to the dictates of our own consciences, with none to molest us or make us afraid, surrounded by kindred and friends, mingling our hearts and voices with theirs. When we enter thy courts, may we leave all vain thoughts behind. May we listen with honest and well-disposed minds, applying the words of truth to our own souls, and feeling our own need, our own wants, deeply. Let thy house be to us an open gate of heaven, where we may catch the light of the unseen world, and hold communion with heavenly things.
We pray for our brethren of every order and denomination. May all enjoy the rest which this day offers. Let it not be abused into an occasion of selfish pleasure and of corrupting indulgence, but may men hearken to the strong cries of their immortal souls, to the wants of the mind and heart, and be fed this day with bread from heaven. Be this day blessed to the weary and heavy-laden. Let the name of Christ be sounded over the whole earth. Let all darkness vanish, and all chains be broken. Let the reign of the prince of peace commence. Drop down, ye heavens, and let the skies pour down righteousness, and let truth and goodness cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea; and thine, O God, shall be the glory for ever. Amen."

Have a blessed Sabbath everyone

Thursday, January 27, 2011

a heavenly climate...

Another snow storm, more shoveling, but the sun is now out and all looks new...A break, today, from Unitarian Bible views in favor of this excerpt from a wonderful sermon I read this morning (before the power went out) by Ephraim Peabody called "Watching With Christ."

"It is one of the great blessings of Christianity, that it has filled this sphere of human life with higher moral thoughts, has surrounded us by this presence of truth, has placed stars in the otherwise darkened firmament. Over the abyss of human passion and ignorance move not shapes of evil alone, but holy beings, and Christ, and God, — a new class of ideas, into which we may rise by faith, and which constitute, as it were, a heavenly climate and sky for the mind. Our power to resist temptation depends mainly, not on mere strength of will, but on the habit of dwelling amidst these higher truths and obeying them. The closer the connection of our minds with these ideas, the more intimate our companionship with them, the greater our moral power. The mind receives light and strength from a higher source, The powers of evil may wait for us below, but they dare not ascend into this holy mountain. And so long as we retain this better spirit, temptation has but little power. It is not the soul's privilege only, but the soul's safety, to have its conversation in heaven."


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

the real life of the scriptures...

Our tour of Unitarian Bible views continues with this sermon extract from Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, a patron spirit of "Boston Unitarianism," and often excerpted here.

"Having thus dwelt — longer than was intended — on the fact that the Bible is a living thing, let us now proceed to describe the nature of this life. And the chief thought to be here presented is, that it has an organized life; that is, one that is distributed over a variety of dissimilar parts, which have a certain connection and mutual dependence, and are bound together at one root, or by one common principle. The figure in the text will illustrate, as well as any thing else, the idea that I wish to convey. The life of a tree is organic; appearing in the wood and sap, the leaf and bough, the bud and fruit, which are all distinct but appertaining; and drawing its nourishment through the fibres that are spread out at the foot. Such is the life of the Scriptures; divided, but yet one. Planted by the rivers, drinking the air and light, with the birds of heaven in its branches and the fainting earth in its shade, " the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine."
This simple and natural conception of them will be found, when reflected on, to be no merely agreeable fancy, or solitary fact, but a truth that leads to several interesting consequences. It will help to reconcile some differences in opinion, and explain some difficulties that have arisen on this subject . And first, of those differences. There are two ways, perhaps equally common, of regarding the sacred volume. The first looks at it as if it were but a single composition; all alike, and strictly one. It makes no discriminations; but holds all that has been collected within the same canon as placed on the same authority and entitled to the same regard; afflicted by the same censure, or sharing the same admiration ; exalted or depreciated together. This view, superstitious in those who believe and unjust in those who cavil, leaves out of sight the principal beauties and evidences of these writings. It discovers nothing of the bearings of one Scripture upon another, and the proportion of a single part to the rest. Through ignorance of their true construction, it mistakes even when it reveres them, and allows of no place to stand on, for their defence against the unbeliever. The opposite view of them is more intelligent, but yet faulty. It recognizes in them nothing but a miscellaneous and chance collection, brought together from different periods of time, without any just method or community of design. It overlooks the bond of their union. By refusing to own them as a whole, it does them a similar injury as if one should take a noble building to pieces, and survey it by the single column or arch, a sculpture or a portico at a time, instead of including within a glance its entire symmetry. Now, according to the idea that I have proposed, both these representations are brought into agreement. Their error is perceived ,to lie only in their partiality and exclusiveness. Combine them, and then you have the real life of the Scriptures, constituting one object out of dissimilar but according parts; as the juices of the same plant produce the tough knot upon its rind, and the delicate blossom trembling in the air it perfumes and dropping under the weight of the rain."


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

to instruct common readers...

Noah Worcester (1758-1837) was a truly fascinating figure in early American Unitarianism. The Dictionary of Unitarian Universalst Biography tells his story here It reports that:
In 1810...he published "Bible News of Father, Son and Holy Ghost," a treatise that attracted wide attention during this period of the Unitarian controversy. Henry Ware Jr. wrote, "The appearance at this moment of a bold and free-minded advocate of liberty and truth, bursting away by solitary study and the unaided action of his own mind from the old prescriptive theology, was well adapted to make a sensation. Mr. Worcester became an object of much interest and sympathy, and his cause was made identical with the great movement against ecclesiastical authority."

Worcester relates five rules for Biblical Interpretation all of which he uses to prove his central proposition that God is one, Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible does not support the doctrine of the Trinity...

"Rule I. "The Scriptures were inspired, to instruct common readers, by using words according to their Common acceptation, and not to confound them by an abuse of language."

Rule II. The terms used in Revelation must be understood in a sense corresponding with some analogy known to men.

Rule III. So far as the Scriptures may interpret themselves, by eomparing Scripture with Scripture, sueh interpretation is to be preferred to any human hypothesis

Rule 1V. In many instanees, it is neeessary to take into view the customs of the people to whom the Scriptures were originally communicated and to consider in what light they would most naturally understand particular passages.

Rule V. Particular phrases, terms, and epithets", are to be understood in a sense which is eonsistent with the general tenor of the gospel, and the character of the objects to which they are applied."


Monday, January 24, 2011

peculiar care...

Longtime readers know that I love the Bible and take it seriously as a revelation and a guide. A ongoing project of mine has been to create a Commentary on the Gospels using the words of my beloved "Boston Unitarians" meaning, of course, the "founding generation" of American Unitarianism. That project continues. After a holiday blogging sabbatical I would like to start a series on how Unitarians changed Bible reading. As always, of course, I welcome any comments, expertise, etc...Though I have posted this before (I think) and though I will go backwards in time tomorrow, William Ellery Channing's "Unitarian Christianity" has to be the first word.

"I. We regard the Scriptures as the records of God's successive revelations to mankind, and particularly' of the last and most perfect revelation of his will by Jesus Christ. Whatever doctrines seem to us to be clearly taught in the Scriptures, we receive without reserve or exception...Jesus Christ is the only master of Christians, and whatever he taught, either during his personal ministry, or by his inspired Apostles, we regard as of divine authority, and profess to make the rule of our lives.

This authority, which we give to the Scriptures, is a reason, we conceive, for studying them with peculiar care, and for inquiring anxiously into the principles of interpretation, by which their true meaning may bo ascertained. The principles adopted by the class of Christians in whose name I speak, need to be explained, because they are often misunderstood. We are particularly accused of making an unwarrantable use of reason in the interpretation of Scripture. We are said to exalt reason above revelation, to prefer our own wisdom to God's. Loose and undefined charges of this kind are circulated so freely, that we think it due to ourselves, and to the cause of truth, to express our views with some particularity...

We profess not to know a book, which demands a more frequent exercise of reason than the Bible. In addition to the remarks now made on its infinite connexions, we may observe, that its style nowhere affects the precision of science, or the accuracy of definition. Its language is singularly glowing, bold, and figurative, demanding more frequent departures from the literal sense, than that of our own age and country, and consequently demanding more continual exercise of judgment. We find, too, that the different portions of this book, instead of being confined to general truths, refer perpetually to the times when they were written, to states of society, to modes of thinking, to controversies in the church, to feelings and usages which have passed away, and without the knowledge of which we are constantly in danger of extending to all times, and places, what was of temporary and local application. We find, too, that some of these books are strongly marked by the genius and character of their respective writers, that the Holy Spirit did not so guide the Apostles as to suspend the peculiarities of their minds, and that a knowledge of their feelings, and of the influences under which they were placed, is one of the preparations for understanding their writings. With these views of the Bible, we feel it our bounden duty to exercise our reason upon it perpetually, to compare, to infer, to look beyond the letter to the spirit, to seek in the nature of the subject, and the aim of the writer, his true meaning ; and, in general, to make use of what is known, for explaining what is difficult, and for discovering new truths."