Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

things should not powerfully affect the all-important questions of personal religion, and call, for strenuous exertions of duty, on those who are thus subjected to a peculiar responsibility.

Character is in a great measure the offspring of circumstances. The action and results of principles are greatly modified by circumstances. In order to employ principles in such a manner as to secure their intended results, we must ascertain the nature and influence of the circumstances which affect their action. The men who, in one age of the world, show themselves under a certain aspect because necessarily moulded by the pressure of the age, would become of a wholly different stamp if subjected to the impressions of a later period; and the principles, whose action, being opposed by, or combined with that of a certain state of society, leads to unhappy results, might become, in another state of society, the spring of all that is generous and great. Accordingly it has been remarked, that the Puritan character, though such as could be formed only beneath Christian influences, is yet a character which will never appear again upon earth, because the very peculiar circumstances of that astonishing period can never be precisely repeated. Every period has its own circumstances modifying in some way the operation of universal principles, and thus producing a character of its own; every subdivision or subordinate circle in society modifies it still farther, and produces another variety of the general character.

He that is wise, seeks to ascertain what are these circumstances, and to use them or thwart them in such manner as shall bring about the best result on his own character. Every wise community will do the same.

Let us look at the Unitarian community, with this reference lo the circumstances in which it is placed. What has it assumed as the universal principles of truth and duty, and how is their practical operation affected by the posture of the times, and what are the peculiar obligations thence resulting? I could not answer these questions in a volume; in this pamphlet I only pretend to hint at an answer.

In respect to principles, what is most worthy of observation seems to me this:-it professes to have adopted as the universal principles of truth and duty, those fundamental everlasting principles, which are received by all Christians as the basis and substance of their faith, and which comprise the essence of all religion, morality and philosophy. The process by which these principles are arrived at, is very simple. It has, in following out the doctrines of the great Lutheran Reform, stricken off from its list of theological articles those which were peculiar to the Romish church, and had made that church distinctively what it was;—then, it removed those which formed the peculiarities of the Lutheran and Calvinistic bodies; then it set aside those which were peculiar to the church of England, and the kirk of Scotland; and, in a word, it excluded whatever, in any one narrow body of believers, formed the distinctive badge of that body,-Moravian, Methodist, Baptist, Swedenborgian, &c.;-reserving to itself whatever, by being found in each, was proved to be common in all. All that illustrious and unquestionable truth, which is so divine, so essential, so undeniable, that no one of those numerous companies of the holy and good has been led by any philosophy or interest to withhold assent from it; all that glorious and comforting doctrine, which brings to consent and sympathy the purified spirits of our Paschals, Leightons, Doddridges, Wesleys,

Cappes, and Penns,-this, separated from all accompanying admixtures, is that truth which the Unitarian community professes to receive as the binding, authoritative guide to the human soul.. This is that to which the study of the scriptures, unbiased by the authority of ages or of churches, naturally conducts. It places those who receive it at once in harmony with all the diversities of the church as respects the essentials of religion, and in contrast to them as regards the non-essentials. As if the sacred metal of truth having been coined up for current use by the different Christian peoples with various proportions and qualities of alloy, this people had proposed to separate from it and cast away those meaner ingredients, and receive in circulation none but the original and unadulterated.

This is the IDEA. This is what they profess to desire, and to aim after. This is the image of full attainment, the mark of the high calling in Christian doctrine, which is set up before us. Not that it has ever been reached; not that in any community among us this great perfection has been realized. Far from it. It is the glorious aim of many, but probably the actual attainment of none. And when we consider how glorious it is, and what incitements we have to strive after it, it is mortifying and humbling to observe how far short of it even they fall, who have the clearest perception of its grandeur and excellence.

Indeed is it not too true, that the very process of mind through which this pure faith is to be sought and attained, -the process of comparing and discussing, and discriminating, and sifting,—is in some respects unfavorable to a due appreciation of its worth when attained? For it is the unhappy consequence of controversy to exaggerate the importance of the disputed doctrines; to draw to them a disproportionate attention, to give to them an undue prominence; and to dismiss from their proper place in the thoughts, those which ought to be the predominating and regulating truths. There is no doubt that it has so happened in the case before us. Strongly as men have been persuaded that the common, and not the disputed truths are of essential and vital moment, yet as it is the disputed which have necessarily been kept prominent during the long discussion, the feelings have been too much kept hovering about them, and prevented from fervently dwelling on the verities of acknowledged supremacy: Thus it is easy to see how the habit may arise of rejoicing with ardent sincerity in the possession of this light, and yet devoting more thought to what is undoubtedly of inferior moment.

Herein, I must remark by the way, is one of the infelicities under which this particular controversy has laid, beyond most of those which have agitated the Christian world. It has turned upon points of philological interpretation and metaphysical discrimination, which, however they may satisfy the head, have little in them to excite the fervors of the heart; and yet, being connected with all those holiest words and ideas about which the heart ought to have its deepest fervors, has directly tended to check and chill its natural warmth. Not so was it in some of the other remarkable contests of the church; not such the points for which Methodism contended, and the Quietists and Quakers suffered. They fell on other days, and were thrown into other channels of thought, which did less to separate the subjects of their debate from those of their rightful affection; and in this were they more har

than we. I do not say it to excuse our remissness; God forbid! but to point out one unhappy circumstance of the times, to the hurtful influence of which we ought to be keenly alive.

To return then to the point from which I may seem to have been departing;—never was it given to a company of believers to be united by constitution or bond so dignified and admirable as this, when understood according to its true idea. It is the naked heart, the inmost core of Christian truth, separated from every addition with which human ignorance, error, ambition, or superstition, had connected it. A famous sect of philosophers there anciently was, who thought to arrive at true wisdom by selecting from all the schools what seemed truest in each, and uniting them in a new system. But the purpose of these modern Eclectics is better still,—to reject what is peculiar to each school, and retain that radical and seminal central truth, which Christ proclaimed from heaven;—to bow to no' human wisdom, be led by no finite will, governed by no fallible authority, but to be free, absolutely and urreservedly, from all constraint upon thought, inquiry, conscience, faith, except the constraint of the revealed Word, and the willing allegiance of the conscientious mind. It is impossible for imagination to conceive a more sublime position for man or angel, in earth or heaven, than this,-that of a spirit erect and independent, owning no control but that of the Being which made it, and to Him and his will surrendered without reserve.

This is the result to which the sublime principles of the Reformation conduct. Those principles insist on freedom of thought, liberty of conscience, the right of private judgment, independence of human control, in the strictest sense. They permit and require every man to inquire of the scriptures and decide for himself;—with unqualified submission to God, with absolute independence of man. That denomination has most consistently adhered to them, which has thrown away every creed but the Bible, and unseated every judge but Christ.

If I understand the subject aright, this is what Unitarianism claims to have done. What a responsibility does it imply? What honesty of mind, what singleness, directness and steadfastness of will, what resolute allegiance to conscience and God, does it demand of its disciples? It might be excusable for other men to inquire dilatorily for truth, and with an indolent foot follow the path of their convictions; for they have cast a portion of their responsibility upon others, and professedly learn much from human teachers. But for those who claim to be free from the interference of every liuman mind, to plant their faith and risk their salvation on the word of God alone,-they are guilty of most inexcusable madness, if they stop short at any secondary knowledge, if they do not draw industriously from that infinite fountain,-if they be not as absolutely subjected to God as they are freed from man. For the object of their liberty is not, that they may follow wildly their own momentary and undisciplined impulses,—that they may take up and lay down at pleasure the thoughts and pursuits which expediency may suggest. They are set free from the control of man, as the planets are, that they may the more exactly and blissfully observe the true orbit appointed by their Maker; made free by the truth, that they may obey the truth, by the truth be sanctified, and thus arrive at that only honor which a rational soul should desire, or in which it can find its well-being.

Has any one fully realized this great idea in his own mind and history? Is there any one who has been thus gloriously true to his trust? Let us believe that there have been many such. We think that we have known them,-some, shining out illustriasly to brighten and shame the world—some, in the humblest retirenents of life, to call forth the admiration and eulogy of the few who se them there, and who marvel that God should not have placed them on high among men. Let us hope that there are many beyond what is supposed, who have arrived at this singular attainment. But does it characterize any community? Do we see the community, which beab upon its very front the token of this holy and resolute independenc., which is imbued throughout with this heavenward and indefeasible allegiance to conscience, unswayed by human opinion, reputation and fashion, consecrated to duty, and sacrificing to duty all selfish and worldly ends? Do we see the community, which has so thrown off the dominion of man, that it is led neither in its opinions nor its practices by the fluctuating standard of the popular breath, but is palpably subject to the supreme and unbending law of God? I think not. Liberty of thought and opinion is strenuously proclaimed; in this proud land it has become almost a wearisome cant; our speeches and journals, religious and poli. tical, are made nauseous by the vapid and vain.glorious reiteration. But does it after all, characterize any community among us? Is there any one to which a qualified observer shall point, and say, There, opinion is free? On the contrary, is it not a fact, a sal and deplorable fact, that in no land on this earth is the mind more fe:tered than it is here? that here what we call Public Opinion has set up a despotiem, such as exists no where else? Public Opinion-a tyrant, sitting in the dark, wrapt up in mystification and vague terrors of obscurity; deriving power no one knows from whom; like an Asian monarch, unapproach, able, unimpeachable, undethronable, perhaps illegitimate.-bat irresistible in its power to quell thought, to repress action, to silence conviction,--and bringing the timid perpetually under an unworthy bondage of mean fear to some impostor opinion, some noisy judgment which gets astride on the popular breath for a day, and controls, through the lips of impudent folly, the speech and actions of the wise.

From this influence and rule, from this bondage to opinion, no community, as such, is free, though doubtless individuals are. But your community, Brethren, based on the principles which you profess, is bound to be so. Each for himself in faith, each for all in action; men to be loved and served, but not to be followed or obeyed; no master but Christ, no Father but God;—these are your maxims. Man seems something more than human when these principles are stated;—but he becomes something less, if, professing them in form, he falsify them in fact."

SELF EDUCATION._FROM SCHILLER,

Seekest thou the Highest, the Greatest? The planets can teach thee;

What they do involuntarily, do thou voluntarily.

J. F. C.

[blocks in formation]

The following b:autiful dirge on Lord Byron, is translated from Helena, an interlude in Faust, published in the latest complete edition d the works of Gothe. It is now for the first time, as far as we know, presented to the public in an English dress. We read, a few years since, an admirable article on this poetic interlude written by that distinguished German scholar, T. Carlyle, and published in the Foreign Review. This contained copious translations, but no translation of the following piece; and strange to say, that acute critic, though mentioning the opinion of some continental commentators which identified Euphorion with Byron, appeared not to adopt it himself. To those who are acquainted with the great German author's published opinions of Byron, and who compare them with the following lines we think no doubt can remain on the subject. The very name, Euphorion, (Exuberant) is characteristic of the genius of Byron. Certain allusions in the poem itself, place it beyond a question. We wish some admirer of Byron or of Gæthe would versify these lines which we can only give in the rude form in which we copied them, a year or two since, into our note book.

EUPHORION's voice from below.

Mother, to the shades beneath,
Let me not depart alone.

DIRGE.

Not alone! wherever thou may'st dwell,

For we believe we now know thee;
And ah! though thou hurriest from light,

No heart can be separated from thee,
We scarcely can weep, we may not lament thee,
But envy thy lot while we sing.

Thy song was noble, thy spirit high,

In thy day of brightness and thy day of gloom.
Ah! born to give bliss to earth-

High in thy longing, powerful in thy strength,
Too early alas! lost to thyself

The blossoms of thy youth were scattered.
Thou lookedst on the earth with piercing gaze,

« AnteriorContinuar »