Thursday, September 29, 2011

all truth shall be sacred...

This from "The Unitarian" magazine, 1892...

"What is the aim of Unitarianism? No question comes to us oftener than this. Perhaps every independent mind must give in some sense a different answer. The following seems to us concise and true. We think there are few Unitarians who will not heartily assent to it. We give it as our answer to inquirers:—
With Jesus as Leader, with all great prophets of the soul as teachers, and with tho Bible and all inspiring books as sacred scriptures, Unitarianism seeks to establish a Church in which all truth shall be sacred, all men brothers, and all duty divine.
It seeks to destroy sectarianism and to promote Christian unity in the only way in which this can ever be done; namely, by exalting the spirit above the letter, by going down below the sectarian differences of Christians to that which all have in common, by making the essentials of Christianity to consist, not in forms or ceremonies or creeds or doctrinal systems, but, as Jesus did, in simple worship of God and service of man. In this work, the most important, as it believes, that is given to this age to do, it invites join."


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

life is hardly respectable...

This from Emerson's essay "Worship"...

"Life is hardly respectable,--is it? if it has no generous, guaranteeing task, no duties or affections, that constitute a necessity of existing. Every man's task is his life-preserver."


Saturday, September 24, 2011

for worship or for death...

This on preparing for the Sabbath by Henry Ware Jr. from his "How to Spend Holy Time." Also interesting in light of the spiritual/religious discussion...

"The fact is," said he, " Saturday evening is the hardest night in the week to get rid of. 'Tis not exactly reputable or proper to be pushing about in the same way as on other evenings, and yet one does not like to be moped up at home. It is neither work day nor Sunday."
"What is it then 1" said David.
"Why, it's something between the two."
"That's the beauty of it to me," said David, " and the very reason why I like it. It is particularly delightful to have a little season of transition between the common affairs of the world and the sacred duties of the Sabbath. I should not like to rush suddenly and without preparation from the one to the other; and this quiet evening is an excellent time for preparation."
"But for my part," answered Smith, "I do not see that any particular preparation is necessary; and I have heard you say a hundred times, that a good man will live so as to have every day a Sabbath as well as Sunday, and be ready, at one time as well as another, to join immediately in prayer." .
"Not a hundred times, John; perhaps two or three."
"Well, not exactly a hundred, to be sure," said Smith, smiling at David's precise way of correcting his extravagance in speech; "not exactly a hundred times; but I am sure I have heard you say so, and I have heard it from the pulpit."
"Very true; and I will not take it back. A man should make every hour holy, and be every minute prepared for worship or for death. But very few men have ever reached such a perfection; and, therefore, we have no right to act as if we had, and put aside special occasions of preparation. We need them so much the more now, because we hope, by and by, to need them less."
"But don't you suppose that one would get on faster if he were to begin with making all days alike?"
"No, not at all; and for this reason; — if he were to begin so, he would make Sunday like a week day, and not the week days like Sunday; he could not avoid this. And just so it has happened with all that I ever knew attempt to act on this principle. It was perfectly impossible for them to live every day a life of sober, devout, contemplative deportment, such as belongs to the Sabbath and to Heaven: they were not advanced enough in holiness for that; and, therefore, all they could effect toward making all days alike was to make Sunday a common day. By this means they did make all alike, but they deprived themselves of a great aid to religious improvement, and their characters perceptibly lost ground. Instead of getting six more Sabbaths in the week, as they pretended to do, they lost the one they had."


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Start your own team...

Emerson chiefly read "for lustres" or bits that inspired his own thought. His biographer James Elliot Cabot reports that he once told "a young admirer" to "Only read to start your own team."


Monday, September 19, 2011

Pshaw! pshaw!...

This from Emerson's lecture, "Character" on the Unitarian clergy, and the accompanying note by J.E. Cabot, editor and compilier of RWE's works...

(RWE) "To their great honor, the simple and free minds among our clergy have not resisted the voice of Nature and the advanced perceptions of the mind; and every church divides itself into a liberal and expectant class, on the one side, and an unwilling and conservative class on the other. As it stands with us now, a few clergymen, with a more theological cast of mind, retain the traditions, but they carry them quietly. In general discourse, they are never obtruded."

(and the note.) "Dr. Charles T. Jackson, Mrs. Emerson's brother, when a boy, was, with several others, the pupil of the excellent but eccentric Dr. Alleyne of Duxbury. One Sunday the boys, accompanying their reverend friend to afternoon service in a time of drouth, each carried a large umbrella under his arm. "Boys!" said the Doctor, "what nonsense is this?" Why Doctor, you prayed for rain this morning." "Pshaw! pshaw! boys; its customary!"


Saturday, September 17, 2011

a chief event of life...

In a lecture entitled "Character" Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking of how the universal moral sentiment is imparted, wrote...

"A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us by its large scope. I am in the habit of thinking, - not, I hope, out of a partial experience, but confirmed by what I notice in many lives, - that to every serious mind Providence sends from time to time five or six or seven teachers who are of the first importance to him in the lessons they have to impart. The highest of these not so much give particular knowledge, as they elevate by sentiment and by their habitual grandeur of view"

Who has Providence sent as your teachers?


Friday, September 16, 2011

the essential characteristic...

Ephraim Peabody's "Eternal Life" continued...

"How little meaning (for most) have the Saviour's words, " Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Not they who act justly and righteously as a matter of expediency, but they who love it for its perceived, intrinsic excellence, —love it as the artist loves what is beautiful, —love it as the sensualist loves his pleasures, — hunger and thirst for it, and must have its presence within them, or die. Instead of our having any just sense of the Gospel doctrine of life, even the prevailing religious creeds of the world fix the attention on a life in a manner external to the soul, a mere continued existence, and a bliss showered on it from without. They treat of salvation; but often it seems as if it were a salvation of man in his sins, rather than from his sins. As if, were it not for future perdition, the attempt to attain the virtues of the Gospel were an unbearable cross. How little do they give the impression, that in these very spiritual excellences, in this love of them, and in their exercise, in their self-controlling and inspiring presence, is itself the eternal life! That Christ came to impart an'd awaken this life, and that his death becomes our life only as it touches our hearts and awakens in them a spirit like his own, — that then, and then only, are we sharers in the life of Christ, — is "this believed ? Were it believed with anything like the intelligent sincerity with which men believe in the worth of intellectual education, of worldly success, or of good repute among men, the millennium would have come. And yet, if there be any meaning in Christ's words, the first step in religion is the perception of the nature of this spiritual life,—the life described in the Bible as that of faith, — a regenerate and sanctified life...

In a word, to sum up what has been said, — the essential characteristic of the eternal life in the soul is the love of truth and good, and thus of God who is the true and good, and of Christ in whom God is manifest. This is the life of the angels which inspires them in their ministries. It is the heavenly life. It is the bond which unites all the hierarchies of the celestial world. He who hath it has affinities with all the pursuits and pleasures of that sacred nature. The pomps and passions of earth turn back from the closed portals of heaven. No bribes gain admission there. No forms or shows avail. But he who hath in him the eternal life, though a beggar naked and maimed and blind, before him heaven's gates open of themselves. He is no stranger there, for the life that is in him finds there its true sphere and companionship."


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

this side the grave...

Ephraim Peabody, often excerpted in these pages, has been my companion the past two or three weeks and a valuable companion he has been. This from his sermon "Eternal Life" (to be continued the next couple of days)


Here is stated the great end of our Saviour's mission. And yet one is tempted to say, that there is no important subject of which the Gospel treats to which a less heedful attention has been given, than its doctrine of Life.
What was the life which Christ came to impart? The common answer is, The assurance of existence beyond the grave. And certainly he gave this assurance ; and no words can overstate its importance. And yet, though of infinite moment, it was the least essential part of Christ's doctrine.
The misapprehensions respecting this subject have arisen from neglecting the two entirely different senses in which the word is used, — the distinction between the life which Christ came to reveal and the life he came to awaken. He revealed an unending life beyond the grave. But far more than this, and what he dwells on as the chief thing, he came to awaken the Eternal Life in the soul. The nature of this life, the mode in which it is awakened, its relations of dependence on Christ and on God, constitute the great theme of the Gospel. Let us, confining ourselves to a single point, endeavor to gain some definite idea of what our Saviour taught respecting its nature.
In the first place, the life which Christ came to impart is a life which may be possessed and enjoyed in this world: " I am come that men may have life, and have it more abundantly." This describes something very different from the mere revelation of a future state of existence. For his coming was in no sense the cause of man's existence. Again, he makes a distinction between the assurance of a future state, and the life which he imparts, when he says, " I am the resurrection and the life." The resurrection may be unto death, whereas he who believeth in me shall never die. " If a man keep my sayings, he shall never taste of death." The wicked share in the common resurrection to a future existence. But they are never spoken of as possessing the eternal life. The murderer is to exist hereafter, but the words are, " No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him "; thus showing, that by the phrase " eternal life " something very different is meant from simply eternal existence. In spite of that existence, " the wages of sin is death," but the gift of God is "eternal life." Or, among numberless other passages bearing on the same point, take the single decisive declaration, " He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." He already hath the everlasting life. The phrase is remarkable. And, in order to leave no room for misconception, he adds, " And is passed from death unto life." The death from which Christ came to deliver man is one which may thus fall on him while he lives in the body, and the life which he came to impart, the eternal life, the everlasting life, may begin this side the grave."


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

obedience alone...

I believe that one of the most neglected aspects of the commonly known Emerson is the absolute centrality of obedience to every aspect of his thought. This from the lecture "Perpetual Forces"

"The forces are infinite. Every one has the might of all, for the secret of the world is that its energies are solidaires; that they work together on a system of mutual aid, all for each and each for all; that the strain made on one point bears on every arch and foundation of the structure. But if you wish to avail yourself of their might, and in like manner if you wish the force of the intellect, the force of the will, you must take their divine direction, not they yours. Obedience alone gives the right to command"


Monday, September 12, 2011

pie and the capacity for virtue...

Two things more than most put me in an Emerson state of mind-fall and pie. There has been a wonderful fall like nip in the air of late and yesterday my wife made me a "back to Church apple pie" so, this morning, I had my favorite breakfast. I was going to praise Carrie's pie as "the best pie I have ever had" (which I think it is) but then I read Emerson's lecture "The Superlative" which argues for a temperance of expression. As an example of the once famous New England gift for understatement, he relates this story...

"How impatient we are, in these northern latitudes, of looseness and intemperance in speech! Our measure of success is the moderation and low level of an individual's judgment. Doctor Channing's piety and wisdom had such weight that, in Boston, the popular idea of religion was whatever this eminent divine held. But I remember that his best friend, a man of guarded lips, speaking of him in a circle of his admirers, said: "I have known him long, I have studied his character, and I believe him capable of virtue."

So I will just say of my breakfast pie, "It was adequate"

(for more on Emerson and pie, go here)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

an instrument of spiritual good...

This "Prayer to be Used by a Sunday School Teacher Before Engaging in Religious Instruction" comes from the Unitarian Prayer collection, "The Altar at Home: Prayers for the Family and the Closet" the 1857 edition...

"0 Thou who seest my whole heart, and knowest all my unfaithfulness, how can I hope, except by thy special blessing and surpassing mercy, to be an instrument of spiritual good, while I am myself so low in spiritual attainments, so worldly, so indifferent, so weak in faith, and so unworthy in thy sight. Yet, 0 my God, thou canst cause the earthen vessel, the broken vessel, the too often dishonored vessel, to receive and convey the balm and medicine of thy heavenly truth, to the praise and glory of thy own name. 0 deign to bless my feeble endeavors and ministrations this day. Let the prayers which shall be poured out be uttered in a believing, contrite, grateful, earnest spirit. Let the words of comment and enforcement which may be offered be words of truth and soberness, conducing to the edification of Christians, and the conviction and renovation of those who as yet believe not.

0 Thou that hast all hearts in thy almighty hand, be pleased so to move and guide my failing mind and heart, and those of others, that we may derive from these means of grace wisdom, and strength, and new devotedness. Fix in my soul, and in every soul present, more forcibly than ever, the practical and prevailing persuasion, that to depend on thy help is indispensable; that to be spiritually-minded is life and peace; that to serve thee in simplicity and godly sincerity, through Jesus Christ, is the way of true freedom and exaltation, of true content and joy; that nothing in the tents or palaces of wickedness or earthly pleasure can compare with the happiness of walking in the light, as thou art in the light. 0 let the blood of Christ purify us from all iniquity; and do thou take away every evil thought and imagination of the heart, confirming each right and self-denying aim and resolve within us, that we may live and die unto the Lord, and be meet for his undefiled home and rest.
Heavenly Father, make all the services of the day, and of the remaining Lord's days which thou mayest grant us upon earth, effectual for these great ends to us and ours, and to all in every place whom we love or ought to love; and bring us all together in the one temple of thy eternal grace and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Assist us mercifully, 0 Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants toward the attainment of everlasting salvation; that among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Have a blessed Sabbath

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Make it honorable...

Ephraim Peabody's "Stand in thy Lot" concluded...

"Be content to stand in your lot. Whatever it may be, there is work in it enough for one to perform. It is your work, and if done in a Christian spirit there is ample opportunity to build up faith and piety in your own soul, and to bless your fellow-men. If you aspire to what you think a better lot, the way to reach it is by being faithful where you are. But be sure, that no lot to which duty calls you can in its essential nature be excluded from the highest good. A noble spirit ennobles the humblest condition, and a mean spirit alone makes the lot mean. A wonderful fact! It seems as if it had been to disabuse the world, and to exorcise it of its false views of human conditions, that the Saviour of man was born in a manger; that his ministry was in the obscure land of Judaea; that by the way-side, along the lake-shore, among humble men, he subjected himself to poverty; that he washed his disciples' feet; that he died on a cross; and in all places lost not his own divinity, but made the event divine.

Whatever then your lot may be, so that it come to you in the simple way of duty, do not contemn it, but honor it, and by your fidelity in it make it honorable. All real duties come in the order of a providential appointment, and take their character, not from the measurements of human vanity, but from God who appoints them. He can be worshipped as devoutly in the humble way-side church, as in the great cathedral; and so also he may be served as truly in the obcurest duty as in that whose performance wins the plaudits of the world. Leave to others to labor in their lot, and for yourself be satisfied to stand in your own; fulfilling its duties; enlarging it by your fidelity; contented to stand there while it is your lot; there to serve God, and to be useful among men."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The silent lives...

Ephraim Peabody's sermon "Stand in thy Lot" continued...

"A man is dissatisfied with his religious state. He desires more religious life. Where shall he look for it?— I answer, from Christian fidelity in the circle of his daily cares and duties. A Christian principle is established in the soul by being obeyed in practice, and his place of obedience is of course where his duties and temptations lie. He may derive from other sources occasional impulse and instruction, but the obedience must be along the daily path of life. The husbandman goes abroad sometimes to gain information, he tries experiments; but he depends for his harvest on his steady labor...

A man must not look, for his means of doing good to others, to making a few addresses on this or that great reform, — to entering great organizations, — to great, conspicuous, and exceptional acts, — nor to occasional acts of generosity. These are indeed necessary in their place, but the great good which he may wish to do must be done by his habitual life spent amidst its common cares. A man promotes by word and act som% great moral enterprise, and yet, after all, to how little will it amount. But behold him in his daily walk. Here, every day, he comes in contact, in his business, with various persons, in a way which shows the real principles on which he acts, — children, young persons, or those of mature years, like himself. He may say nothing, but it is seen that he will not do a questionable act for the sake of personal gain. He will practise on no man's ignorance. He will take no advantage of men's necessities. Where it is to his loss, he is seen to be as strictly just and true and faithful as when it is for his gain. In all his dealings he is governed by Christian principle. Perhaps he does not at all attempt directly to make others better: he is only a good man himself. And yet, were he to devote himself to some great and extraordinary moral or religious enterprise, he probably would not do so much to raise the moral condition of man as he will by this practice of Christian principle amidst those common duties and temptations where the characters of men are tried. The little child sees his course, and involuntarily respects it, and it becomes a standard by which he will judge of the propriety of actions. The young man, whose principles were not bad, but unsettled, takes courage for the right. Those that do business with him, if for nothing else except that he may respect them, will more or less adopt his principles. Unjust and hard and discreditable customs are shamed away, and grow obsolete. Thus, often, the silent lives of individuals in time raise the character of a whole community."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the perpetual and equal illumination of the sun...

This from Ephraim Peabody's sermon, "Stand in Thy Lot" continued from yesterday...

"Just so in morals and religion. Men would do good, and think that the means must lie outside the common course of life. The need of a more religious spirit is felt, and it is sought from extraordinary and ever-varying means of excitement. And certainly we will not undervalue these means. Through them deep invasions and permanent conquests have been made in the realms of ignorance and sin ; but they mark the tendency to rely on the novel and the extraordinary. We see the same tendency in the low estimate which men place on the moral opportunities of that sphere of life in which their daily lot is cast. The merchant says, " I have peculiar temptations: it is very difficult for me to be a Christian "; and he thinks if he is to become one, it must be in some changed condition of life. The sailor says, " I have peculiar temptations: it is very hard for one in my place to be a Christian." And every man thinks that his lot is peculiarly exposed and difficult and destitute of moral- opportunity. For the attainment of the Christian character, and the practice of Christian usefulness, he thinks he must look beyond his common sphere of labor and duty to exceptional and extraordinary opportunities. And yet the daily lesson of Providence is to rely on what is common,—.made common, indeed, because the most valuable. Thus Almighty God does not rely for lighting the world on the momentary glare of an occasional meteor, but on the perpetual and equal illumination of the sun. And man, while thankful for every extraordinary aid, must look for his goodness and usefulness chiefly to his use of the common means and opportunities which belong to his special lot."

Monday, September 5, 2011

an illuminated universe...

I am currently re-reading the "Sermons" of Ephraim Peabody, often excerpted in these pages. The next few days will include bits from his sermon: STAND IN THY LOT.

DAYS.—Daniel xii. 13.

"In the text, the Prophet " should stand in his lot, and rest." The words may have a universal application. The infinite variety of human duties cannot all be discharged by the same person. For different duties there must be different men. Thus it is, in the order of Providence, that to different men different lots are assigned, not necessarily better or worse one than another, but different. And in his own lot, and not in another man's, must each one accomplish the true purposes of his existence. He must not dream of some impossible condition, but with a manly heart be content to labor in his appointed lot, — content to find in that, so long as it is his, his usefulness, his happiness, and his virtue. Do not crave what is another's and not yours, but stand in your own lot, be grateful for its privileges, and faithful to its obligations.
The lesson has not lost its significance for our restless, impatient, grasping age. It points to a view of life and duty which it greatly concerns us to consider. There are two principal things for which life is worth living, — personal growth in goodness, and social usefulness. For both these things there is a constant tendency to look beyond the means and opportunities furnished in our appointed walk in life. We rely for goodness and usefulness on opportunities which are rare and exceptional, but neglect as valueless those which come within our actual lot.
Thus in theology we hear of common grace and special grace, of ordinary and extraordinary means of grace ; and yet while it is on the ordinary means of grace that the moral life of man mainly depends, they are neglected and forgotten in the anxiety for those that are extraordinary. And certainly the tendency to overvalue what is unusual is quite natural. That which is extraordinary, though comparatively of inferior moment, strikes the imagination, and for the time makes a great place for itself in the mind. A miracle preserves the life of one man, and the world turns in wonder and reverence to view it, and acknowledges the hand of God ; and it is right and well. Yet at the same moment the ordinary providence of God, moving calmly as the stars, lights up the heavens, gives fertility to the earth, and spreads the table at which the human race sits down, and by which it lives ; and it is not well for us to forget that this ordinary providence of God is a more stupendous manifestation of his glory and goodness than any single miracle can possibly be. A whole country collects to see an illuminated city, and yet the glare of the torchlight which blinds us to the stars hides and makes us forget the more wondrous illumination of the heavens. The throng traverses with unsated gaze the illuminated street, because the spectacle is rare. As it withdraws into the open country, and morning breaks in splendor above the seas, its beams kindling from cloud to cloud till earth and sky are flooded with light, the weary multitude is scarcely conscious of standing under an illuminated universe. This spectacle for the angels is unheeded because it is common."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hope on...

I was first exposed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, like most I suppose, through oft anthologized essays such as "Self-Reliance." Over more years than I like to remember I have wrestled with RWE. As I have gotten older, the older more pragmatic Emerson holds greater appeal. I am also, however, starting to read some of his young man sermons with profit. This from a sermon on Matthew 25: 23, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things..."

"Christianity despises nothing because it is small, provided only that it is according to your ability. It says be not discouraged if you find more difficulties in your path to heaven, than in first ardour of youthful resolution, you anticipated. You have aimed at great conquests with too much confidence in yourself, and are dispirited now by apparent failure. Hope on. Be thankful with growing better by small and almost imperceptible acquisitions, only see too it that you husband them well...

My friends, I wish the words of Jesus might prevail with us to direct a new attention and a greater respect to the improvement of our characters by small degrees. What is biggest is made up of minute parts...

Besides, there is no such thing as a small virtue. Virtue is always great, and to the least action which it inspires, it imparts something of grandeur."


Saturday, September 3, 2011

playing on the seashore...

Part of my devotions this morning included an early sermon by Ralph Waldo Emerson which, in turn, included this wonderful bit...

"We can hardly quote too often the beautiful saying of that man who knew so mush more than his fellow men, Sir Isaac Newton. "I don't know," he said, "what I may seem to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."


Friday, September 2, 2011

close to the road...

This from James Freeman Clarke's sermon, "Faithful Over a Few Things"

"But what is the meaning of the word "integrity "? It means thoroughness, entireness; putting the same quality of soul into everything, great and small. No one is a man of integrity who does not do every thing with the same nndeviating honesty, the same unbending principle. The man of real integrity puts the whole energy of conscience, faith, love, into the smallest act as into the greatest. So the steam-engine in a factory exerts the same tremendous power to cut in two an iron bar, or to stick a pin into a card.

Christianity does not allow us to trifle with anything. There is nothing trivial to the illuminated eye and heart of faith. He who says to his brother, "Thou fool!" is in danger of hell-fire. He is, in fact, already in hell-fire; for the feeling of contempt for his brother, the scorn and disdain which can thus reject from its sympathy a fellow-man, is itself the spirit of the pit...

I once heard of a...preacher, who used this plain but striking image in a sermon: "You think, my brethren, that you can go a little way out of God's road into the devil's field, and not be caught, provided you do not go too far. But the devil is not such a fool, when he spreads his nets and sets his traps for you, to put them away in the middle of his field. No: he puts them close to the road: so, if you mean to go a great way or only a little way, he is sure to have you in either case." The illustration was homely; but the doctrine is sound."


Thursday, September 1, 2011

a higher and holier life...

This from Ephraim Peabody's "Christian Days and Thoughts"

There are seasons when, for the moment at least, the power of the world seems to drop. A strange and awful sense of responsibility comes upon us. Aspirations rise up out of the soul like the morning mist kindling in the sun as it rises from the mountain top towards heaven. We long for a higher and holier life. The vanity of the world, the worth of virtue, the goodness of God, and the peace of a trusting and devout heart are revealed to us. It is a heavenly vision open before the soul. These hours, when the soul is freed from its bonds, and holds communion with truth and God, and sees revealed the realities of its existence, are blessed hours—hours of heaven— hours which if obeyed shall raise the soul upward to heaven. Repel not the heavenly vision by disobedience. Sacrifice any thing rather than these heavenly impulses. Give up any thing that interferes with carrying them out into the life. These hours of the soul's communion with truth and God are the precious hours of life. They are the scattered fountains in the desert, at which the fainting traveller revives his strength and courage. Then heavenly voices speak, and happy is he who gives heed to the heavenly vision, which is from God, and conduces to God."