A Daring Faith

John W. Chadwick

Berry Street Essay, 1884


Delivered at the Ministerial Conference

Boston, Massachusetts

May 28, 1884


            I am indebted to a friend for the subject of the address which I shall read to you this morning, to many friends no doubt alive and dead for much that I shall say. My subject is "A Daring Faith.” We have, I think, a just description here of the faith to which many Unitarians have arrived already and to which the average tendency of the Unitarian body is quite unmistakable. Let it be understood I am the voluntary spokesman here of the many who have already come to the Mount Zion of this faith, and who believe the average tendency to be sound and good. When I speak of this faith as "ours,” let it be understood that I have these in mind and am not imputing to the Unitarian body, as a whole, a faith which some of its most honorable and honored members do not cherish.

            Why is this faith of ours a daring faith? For one thing because it is a faith in religion. And there can be no faith in religion at this present time which does not involve an element of daring. It is made necessary in the first place by the history of religion. And not merely by its history as summarized by those who have arrayed themselves against religion with deliberate and conscious animosity. If such were to be trusted, we should believe with them that the record of religion in the past had been a record of evil and of evil only. Daring our faith must be to meet their railing accusation; but daring, too, to meet the unquestionable facts which the impartial annalist records and the unavoidable concessions of those who still believe that the religious interests of mankind are its most vital interests. "We cannot forget,” says one[i] in whose "large utterance” we all rejoice, "that religion has been a worker of evil, one of the greatest workers of evil. No agent that has wrought in earthly scenes has been more prolific of ruin and wrong. The wildest aberrations of human nature, crimes the most portentous, hatred and wrath and bloodshed more than have flowed from all sources besides, have been its fruits. The victims of fanaticism outnumber those of every other and all other passions that have wasted the earth. Pining in dungeons, hunted like beasts of prey, stretched on the rack, affixed to the cross, their sufferings are the horror of history. No high wrought fiction, recounting imaginary woes, can match the colors of their authentic tragedy. A corruption of the text of the Vedas has cast thousands of Hindu women on the funeral pile. An interpolation of two words in the service of the Eastern Church has driven whole villages in Russia into fiery death. A sentence in the Book of Exodus has been a death sentence to millions of helpless women. And who shall compute the sum of the lives that have furnished the holocausts of the inquisition.”

            And this tale of sorrows, though it is long and terrible, does not include some of the most dreadful counts. These sorrows have but killed the body. Others have cast the human spirit into hell. They have fostered ignorance, they have crushed out intelligence, they have nourished thousands of insanities, the most intolerable, the most incurable that have marred and wasted the diviner part of man.

            To blink not one of all these monstrous facts, to allow them their full force, and yet have faith in religion, -- faith in its past as well as in its present and its future, -- must not the loving be the daring who can attain to this? To this have we attained. We dare so much. Religion is not discountenanced by these monstrous facts. They are the defects of its qualities. They are the fierce, black, swirling eddies which declare the volume and momentum of the torrent in its mid career. They no more impeach the essential soundness of religion than the excesses of the sexual passion impeach the soundness of this passion. Without this, men, without that, man, would shortly be extinct. Religion has indeed been guilty of these crimes and misdemeanors, but they do not exhaust the fullness of her life. She has done much besides. She has reared the grandest buildings, written the most precious books, inspired the noblest arts, -- their first inception and their highest range, -- furnished the most illustrious men, giving at once their motive and their aim, inaugurated the most important changes in society, controlled the most far-reaching movements of mankind. Let all the facts be shown in their due order and proportion; and the most daring would be those who dare deny the ultimate validity of that force in human nature which has been equal to so much of lordly benefit, stained though it be with many lusts and crimes.

            But there is that in certain aspects of our immediate time which is more daring to our faith in both the present and the future value of religion, whatever its past record, than any arraignment which its enemies have brought against it, or any admissions which its honest friends have made in its disfavor. What I refer to is an ethical passion, consciously and deliberately detaching itself from religion, whose votaries insist that religion has no future, that henceforth ethics must be all in all, that, in the present, religion still hinders ethical advancement as it has always hindered it in the past; but it must hinder it no more. So grave and sweet are many of the voices that assure us that these things are so that we cannot but accord to them our earnest heed. They present a remarkable phenomenon at the very moment when the insistence is so common that a moral interregnum must ensue not only on the decay of Christian dogma. The ethics correlated with this dogma has been vitiated from the start by an ulterior motive. Nothing is given up on earth that is not made up for many times over in the heavenly places. The dictum of Hopkinsian piety, that we should be willing to be damned for the glory of God, shines like a bright particular star amid the general darkness. But the dictum of the new ethical passion is that we should be willing to be damned for the glory of man; we should be willing to sacrifice ourselves utterly, if, haply so, the coming man may stand erect in larger freedom and in fuller joy. It is not an easy matter to resist the fascination of this new asceticism, this Donatism of to-day. But, when we have listened to its wisest speech or its most eloquent, we dare believe that ethics is not all, and that a religion which is ethics only, if it be truly a religion, is not all. If there is duty, there is also joy and worship. Even though it were not permitted us to say "God” any more, we should still be confronted night and day by the majestic order of the universe; and it would say to us, "Rejoice! Rejoice!” and the totality of our relation to it could not be exhausted by any sense of mutual obligation between man and man. The morning and the evening hush, the glow at night of multitudinous stars, the spring’s delicious trouble in the ground, the summer’s beautiful effulgence, the imperial splendor of autumnal days, and, more than all, the wonder and the mystery of human life and thought and love, -- not until these things and such as these gladden our hearts no more, and no longer soften them with the still rain of tears, will the religion of the harmoniously developed man be "mere morality,” albeit the most exigent that has ever summoned men to passionate self-surrender. They reckon ill who leave this worship factor out from their conception of religion. Ours is a daring faith, because it dares believe that moral obligation is not, as it has been so frequently declared to be of late, the sole substance of religion. This is not less than its most earnest and exalted devotees would have us to believe; and still it is a part.


"Sometimes, I have an awful thought,

Which bids me do the thing I ought:

It comes like wind, it burns like flame,

How can I give that thought a name?

It draws me like a loving kiss.

My soul says, There is more than this.”


            What is this which is more than ethics? It is not worship. It is religion, -- religion which is not ethics alone, nor worship alone, but ethics and worship indissolubly fused into one great commanding and inspiring unity.

            Again, ours is a daring faith, because it is not merely faith in religion, and in religion as "morality touched by emotion,” conjoined with worship in co-equal marriage, but also faith in natural religion, in religion as natural. To cherish such a faith is to array one’s self against a great majority of the human race. With this majority, which is not Christian only, but also Jewish and Mohammedan and Brahmanic and Buddhistic and of many humbler faiths, -- with this majority, religion is a something supernatural, something imposed on human nature from without, and not the natural flowering of its inherent and most characteristic life. To this belief, we dare oppose the faith of

Emerson, --

"Out of the heart of nature rolled

The burdens of the Bible old.”


            Out of this same great heart have come all Bibles, all religions. We posit no divine communication as opposed to human possibility or additional to it. The divine communication is in the structure of the world. The Word is evermore becoming flesh, and we evermore behold its glory full of grace and truth. It is not from any disposition to minimize God that we deny to him any isolated irruption into the habitual order of the world. It is because we would maximize him to the uttermost. That once or twice he spoke and broke a silence otherwise eternal, -- this is too nearly atheistic for our minds and hearts. We want a present God, and no mere hearsay or tradition. We do not wish to live on the report of dead men’s truth and dead men’s virtue. Our God, -- he is no


"ebbing tide that left

Strewn with dead miracle those eldest shores,

For men to dry and dryly lecture on,

Himself henceforth incapable of flood.”


He is a living God. O friends, who think that God once spoke in some far-off millennium, and then relapsed into his former alienation, and that the best that we can do is to listen for the echoes of that distant voice, mingled with infinite wild jargonings of insensate men, what say you to this pulsing, radiant beauty of the early summer, to this flood of life which has crept up and up till it has caught the highest tree-tops in its waves, and now breaks into flowers and music at our feet? Is it by any hearsay or tradition that these things are so? Nay, the Immanent and Never-failing Life. No summer of the earliest time had ever more of Him to warm and quicken it then this which flings its blossoms to our throbbing breasts. And shall the Eternal One be further from the life of man than from the life of woods and streams? Shall the grass grow and the buds burst and the flowers fling out their tiny gonfalons, and the birds sing and the summer come as it has come and will in an unstinted tide of beauty and of good, and all by his immediate inspiration; and shall the heart of man live on the vague tradition and surmise of some elusive momentary gleam of his ineffable glory, vouchsafed long since in some gray morning of the world? Let those who can believe it: we cannot. We dare believe, and to the uttermost. We dare not doubt so much. Either a God who lives and speaks to-day, or none that has ever lived, none that has ever spoken; either a revelation that is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and spirit of our spirit, a revelation that is inherent in our being’s inmost grain, or the eternal silence still unbroken.

            There are those who claim that a belief in supernatural powers impinging on the circle of our mortal life has been essential to the progress of mankind, to its appropriation of all best and fairest things. And, because their name is legion and because their lips are touched sometimes with infinite persuasion, it may well be a daring faith that shall precipitate itself upon a different conclusion. But here we stand. So help us God, we can no otherwise. Not faith in miracle, but faith in law has been the saving grace in human history. To men’s growing confidence in the stability thrusts, is due all the stability of human life. As if the incalculable element in nature were not sufficiently immense and sufficiently paralyzing to the arm of industry and social enterprise, men have induced upon it the incalculable element of an imaginary supernatural sphere. So handicapped, the wonder is that man has made anything but a miserable failure of the race set before him. But he has from age to age reduced the incalculable element in nature within narrower limits, and simultaneously he has heeded less and less the suggestion of a supernatural interpolation. And in proportion to his doing of these things has been his growing mastery of the world. To the fabled music of Amphion the obsequious stones built up the walls of Thebes. No fable is the music of men’s faith in the invariable sequences of natural law to which the arts of civilization have upreared themselves for our defence and joy. Without a growing faith in the uniform procedure of that Power which manifests itself in the qualities and relationships of all material things, the vast and infinitely complex web of civilization would never have been spun. And, could this faith be taken from us now, all that the patient generations have accomplished would at once begin to melt into thin air. Our sufficiency is of God; not of his interference and caprice, but in the unchanging and unchangeable consistency of all his ways. A daring faith! And how much better than the daring doubt that he is equal to all places and events, that he is present here and now as surely and as graciously as he has ever been in any time or place since the first atom stirred, that his steadfast law is as simple for the beatitudes and graces of our inner life as for the economies of our material comfort and prosperity!

            Faith in religion, whatever crimes have been committed in its name, whatever imbecilities afflict its present course; faith in religion, not as morality alone, but as morality and worship equally conjoined; faith in religion as the most natural gesture of the human soul, in Law as the expression of the everlasting faithfulness and the foundation of our deepest trust, -- here is a daring faith. And yet its terms do not exhaust the fullness of the faith that is demanded of us by the exigencies of this modern time, -- exigencies which Denton formulated when he said, "To dare to dare, and evermore to dare.” The best, the most important, certainly, is yet unsaid. It is that we are cowards still, without the courage of our principles, recreant to all that is most sacred in our Unitarian tradition till we have added to the faith already named faith in the simplicity of religion, faith in its spirituality, faith in its essential quality as transcending all dogmatic limitations. This is the most daring faith of all, but there is nothing new in its enunciation. It is good, old-fashioned Unitarianism, the Unitarianism of William Ellery Channing, which declared that character, not creed, is the essential thing, and that it is our duty, not less than our right, to exercise the fullest liberty of thought concerning the most sacred things. Thousands of times these declarations have been made. Hundreds of times they have been clarioned forth upon great public occasions, and have been received with thunders of applause.  But it is one thing to say these things or to assent to them in a general way, and it is quite another thing to apply the principles which they involve to a particular case:  such, for example, as the famous Year Book Controversy, which lately came to such a comfortable, not to say comical, conclusion, spoiling a splendid opportunity for straightforward justice and fidelity to an ideal;  such, still more notably, as the constitution of our National Conference, which, had we the courage of our principles, would long since have ceased from being the absurdly contradictory instrument it is today.  But there are many hopeful signs.  One of the most hopeful is the publication by our Unitarian Association of such a book as Mr. Hall’s Orthodoxy and Heresy.  If the Association had done nothing else for a whole year, it would have done enough to justify our perfect confidence.  For what is the final outcome of that learned, interesting, and courageous book?  In its own words, it is:  "Either Catholicism is right, or doctrine is not essential to Christianity.  As true Protestants, of course our choice is clear.  We hold Protestantism to be right.  Therefore, we must conclude that doctrine is not essential to Christianity.  There can be a pure and true Christian faith without Christian doctrines, without any verbal statements, that is, in which all are forced to unite. Doctrine is not an essential part of Christianity, else Catholicism is right and Protestantism is wrong.”  Here is a standard which allows not only religiousness, but Christianity, to those who find themselves compelled to question or repudiate the supernatural claims of Jesus, made for him or by him, and to reject his spiritual lordship and finality.

            I shall not linger at this stage of my discourse.  Mr. Hall’s presentment of his thought is so comprehensive and persuasive, and it is so easily accessible, that I am little tempted to repeat in some indifferent fashion what he has spoken once for all.  But his final inference shall introduce me into the concluding part of what I have to say.  It is much further-reaching than the inference that Christianity is superior to all dogmatic limitations.  "For fifteen hundred years,” he says, "the Christian world tried the experiment, under circumstances the most favorable possible, of turning Christianity into a creed, of distrusting reason and providing an infallible authority for the soul, of erasing all theological differences and effecting unity of belief.  The experiment failed disastrously.  If we are wise, we shall accept the failure and not repeat the experiment.  It means that dogma is no essential part of religion.”  It does indeed mean all of this, but not explicitly.  Explicitly, it only means that dogma is no essential part of Christianity.  It is a daring faith that can apply even so much as this to the affairs of practical and organized religion.  But there are applications of the principle involved which demand a much more daring faith than that which allows religiousness to many who reject the supernatural character of Christianity and the spiritual lordship of Jesus.  For us to dare so much is easier than not to do it; that is, for those of us who do not accept the supernatural account of Christianity nor admit the lordship of the Nazarene.  It is for those who do accept the one and who do admit the other that the daring is painful exigency.  Whether we have or have not a courage which they dare not show depends on our ability to allow religiousness to those who openly reject the doctrines that are dear to us beyond expression, being convinced that dogma is no more essential to religions in its last inclusiveness than the Christian dogma is to Christianity.  Such are the doctrines corresponding to the verbal symbols God and Immortality.  If these symbols have for us no longer any meaning, nothing is easier than to allow religiousness to those who openly reject them.  So doing, we may only prove our lack of a sufficient courage to assume the odium which we more than half-suspect belongs to such an intellectual position.  But, if the verbal symbols, God and Immortality, stand with us for great and wonderful realities, if at their touch thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears are quickened in the mind, if those whom we have dearly loved have slipped away from us into the Great Silence, if one perhaps dearest and best of all is everywhere and always missed and life were insupportable without the hope of one day meeting her again and knowing that she knows what holy task-work we have made the lonely years, - if it is so with us, then faith in the simplicity of religion, in its transcendency of all dogmatic limitations, is for us indeed a daring faith.  And to this we are called:not to give up our own faith in God, not to give up our own faith in Immortality, but to believe and to persistently maintain that without conscious faith in either of these (to us) divine realities a religiousness is possible of no doubtful character, a religion of unswerving trust and holy consecration.

            I know that some of us are equal to these things. It may be that all of us are so.  That all of us should be I cannot but desire with strong desire.  It must be confessed that there are those in all our churches for whom the symbols, God and Immortality, have no longer any deep significance, to whom the first seems so misleading that it were better set aside, to whom the second stands for something that they could not, if they would, expect and would not, if they could, dreading the weight of the eternal years, - for such there is no trial of their faith.  Such, without effort, can agree that morals are exhaustive of religion, or, seeking a larger outlook, that religion is man’s sense of his relation to the Universe and his endeavor somehow to convert this sense into a binding law of life.  But not so easily can they for whom the tow words "God” and "immortality” stand for imperious necessities of intellect and conscience and affection, if which can be denied, the pillared firmament is rottenness and earth’s base built on stubble.  To these and such as these, and undogmatic faith flings down a real challenge.  Dare they believe and steadfastly maintain that religion is not to be measured by the presence or the absence of those imposing and commanding doctrines that have been most distinctly associated with its historical development?  Dare they give their unqualified assent to the saying of one, himself an English Trinitarian, who has written the most religious book[ii] that has been published in our time, a book that is brimful of god:  "No definition of religion can be satisfactory, unless it surrenders all distinctions between essential and non-essential dogmas: unless, in fact, it is capable of embracing within its scope every conceivable opinion that can by any possibility be conscientiously held.”  "Upon this rock,” saith the spirit, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

            Nothing is surer than that intellectually and formally a man may be a theist and yet have very little religiousness.  His thought of God may touch him less devoutly than the sight of April violets or a rose in June may touch another man who makes no pretensions to religion.  Wisely and well asks Frederic Harrison:  "Why need a theist be one who has a religion?  All that he does, as a theist, is to answer a certain cosmical problem in a certain way.”  Nothing is surer, on the other hand, than that a man may intellectually and formally refrain from the theistic affirmation, may even permit himself to be called an atheist, and even prefer to be so called, and nevertheless he may be (he is by no means necessarily)  profoundly religious.  For religion is an awful, tender, earnest, solemn, trustful sense of our relation to the great sum of universal life and law; and it often happens that, just in proportion as this sense is vital and profound, a man is disinclined to accept any statement which other men have made of the ultimate mystery of Bing or to make any statement of his own.  I should say, myself, that such a man is an unconscious theist.  In every earnest attempt that has so far been made to state the problem of the universe in other than theistic terms, I find, or think I do, an unquestionable theistic implication.


"Man cannot be God’s outlaw if he would,

Nor so abscond him in the caves of sense,

But Nature still shall find some crevice out

With messages of splendor from that source,

                                      Which, soar he, dive he, baffles still and lures.”


            God is at the beginning of our thought, not at the end of it.  We cannot believe in ourselves without believing in him.  We cannot trust our faculties without trusting the ultimate ground of their existence.  We cannot deny God without thereby affirming him.  But, if a man refuses to call himself or to be called a theist, we must take him at his word.  Only, if he is one who thrills with recognition of the tender grace and awful sweep of things, one whom the vastness of life’s awful temple almost oppresses with a sense of order and of might, one whom this sense and recognition binds to constant service of the Beautiful and Good and True, let us dare say that, in the highest, deepest sense, he is religious; let us not dare, whatever question he may make of personal theism, whatever objection to the name of God with any possible interpretation, to doubt that he has chosen for himself the better part which cannot be taken from him by any failure on his part to express to others’ satisfaction the logic of the mystery of the Eternal Life.

            As with the doctrine of Theism, so also with the doctrine of Immortality. The more it is to us, the less shall we be tempted to believe that any one can willingly forego its precious consolation. The subjective bias in favor of this doctrine is so immense that to blame a man for doubting its validity is a terrible perversion of the natural order of ideas.  The logic of his doubt we may impugn, but surely not his moral rectitude in denying that which, could he do it honestly, he would affirm with passionate delight.  Nothing is surer than that intellectually and formally a man may hold it with unquestioning assurance and be no more religious for so doing.  Bound up as it has been in Christian history with the doctrine of eternal misery, it has been eminently unreligious, - a libel upon God, a horrid blasphemy.  There is often more religion in the denial of this doctrine than in its affirmation, as when the denial is the outcome of a certain noble modesty, demanding, what am I, that I should dare to ask for such immense continuance?  In short, this doctrine is potentially and not intrinsically religious.  Its religiousness depends upon the way in which it is held.  It is held for the most part so selfishly and sordidly that it were better doubted or denied.  But when all its religious potentiality is made actual, how beautiful it is, how sweet, how excellent!  What visions it projects of  blessed things to be,- fuller appropriation of the splendid meanings of the world, deeper insight into its solemn mysteries, beauty and truth unveiling more and more of their immortal grace, and then- a flash of recognition and the long story of the years of absence told, and the long sundered parts of the one life knitting together, and the united strength bracing itself to tasks of high adventure and unselfish love!


                                    "For, sudden, the worst turns the best to the brave:

                                                                The black minute’s at end,

                                                And the elements’ rage, and the voices that rave

                                                                Shall dwindle, shall blend,

                                                Shall change, shall become first a peace, then a joy,

                                                                Then a light; then thy breast,

                                                O thou soul of my soul !  I shall clasp thee again!

                                                                And with God be the rest.”


Here is a hope, a trust, a faith, for which we need not make excuse, of which we need not be ashamed.  If there is anything noble in us, is it not this?  And yet there is a deeper deep.  There is a trust more perfect.  And we attain to it, when we say with calm sincerity, "Whatever is agreeable to thee, O Nature, is agreeable to me.”  Better than any faith in the immortal life is faith that, if such a life is best for us, then it will surely come.  We do not want it, if it is not best.  Let the Eternal Power decide!


                                    " If our bark sinks, ‘tis to this deeper sea.”


                And there are those who sail it evermore.  They have no assurance of a life beyond the grave. They have a complete assurance that, if such a life is good for them to live, they shall not miss the way.  Is such a habit of the soul less perfectly religious, do you think, than Theodore Parker’s certainly of immortality or than the cry of some, "NO immortality, no God, no good”?  Is it not of all possible habits of the soul the most perfectly religious?

            The drift of these considerations may be willfully misunderstood, but hardly otherwise by any serious mind.  It is not that we would have the great beliefs in God and Immortality less precious in men’s eyes.  We would that we might strengthen and ennoble them a hundred-fold.  What we desire is that, however great and precious and consoling these beliefs may be to men, they should have a daring faith that they are not exhaustive of religion, not, by any means, the final standards of its grace and power.  They may be rigorous and aggressive in the mind, while at the same time the quality of a man’s religiousness is intolerably poor.  They may be timorous, silent, or even consciously opposed, and the quality of a man’s religion may be sweet and sane, a gracious force in his own life, a blessing to his kind.  Here is no idol of the closet, whose living counterpart we have never found in the society of living men:  but the living men, whom we have known and loved, in whose walk and conversation we have seen the fair embodiment of this gospel that we preach, have been our most convincing argument that these things are surely so.

            To allow that the most characteristic dogmas of religion are not essential to a profound religiousness will doubtless seem to some of our remoter friends a paradox well qualified to cheapen and discourage all belief in God or the immortal life.  But it is our belief that this allowance- let it become insistence, and so much the better- will have no such operation.  We do not believe that either of these great beliefs has gained one noble suffrage in the course of human history by the persistent association and the persistent association of moral shame and blame with their negation.  We believe that, once removed forever from the sphere of praise and blame, these ideas and beliefs will enter on a new career of victory and renown.  The opprobrium here to fore attaching to denial has whipped in the cowards, while it has piqued the courage of high-tempered and chivalrous men.  Like Perugino, who refused the final sacraments when dying, they wish to see "how a man fares who has dispensed with all these things.”  "Men are responsible,” said Thomas Jefferson, "not for the rightfulness, but for the righteousness of their opinions.”  To hold them responsible for their rightfulness is to put their righteousness in constant jeopardy.  The mystery of faith cannot be held in a pure conscience so long as this enormous bias hangs upon it.  But that it shall be held in a pure conscience is of the first importance.  "The hell that a lie will keep a man from is doubtless,”  George MacDonald says, " the best place for him to go to.”  Whatever the result of freeing the great doctrines of religion from the moral bias that has hung upon them in the past, there is nothing else for those to do who see that it is not legitimate.


                                                "Guard thou the act ! though ‘t safer seem

                                                                      In harbor to abide:

                                                                For us the tides of ocean stream;

                                                                     The safe must first be tried.”

            And what remains to us when we have come to this conclusion, - that dogma is not essential to religion and that no exception can be made to this exalted rule?  Why, it remains, for those of us who have our own doctrinal persuasions, freely to utter them to  urge them on our fellowmen in the degree of our conviction of their spiritual significance, always subordinating them, however, to the assurance felt, and manfully avowed, that the mere holding of nay doctrine whatsoever has no religious quality.  A man’s belief in God, a man’s belief in Immortality, may be the continent of a religiousness of incalculable depth of sweetness.  And it may be "a cipher with the rim removed.”  What remains is for those of us who cherish these beliefs to rescue them so far as in us lies from all unmoral and immoral implications, to make them radiant with celestial peace and calm, motives and inspirations to all highest excellence, all sweet humanities.  This, too, remains: the faith that, even for those who somehow have lost these doctrines and persuasions irretrievably, all is not lost. It remains for us to show how many great and ample reasons still exist for carrying out the poet’s high behest when he puts question, and makes answer thus:-

"Hath man no second life? Pitch this one high!

Sits there no Judge in heaven, our sin to see?

                       More strictly then the inward judge obey!

                       Was Christ a man like us?  Ah! Let us try

                       If we then, too can be such men as he!”


There remains the unity of the Spirit,- the spirit of beauty, truth, and good, the spirit of awe and wonder, reverence and adoration, trust and peace, as we more deeply apprehend the ordered vastness of the world and more earnestly ally ourselves with its invincible and glorious sweep from good to better and from better on to best.  Are we a little flock, and do we sometimes shudder at our isolation?  To what a company that no man can number are we conjoined by this unity of the Spirit! As the good ship passes the equator with no monitory ripple of the sea beneath her steady keel, so, thanks to this, we pass a thousand nominal barriers of sect and creed, and enjoy the freedom of a thousand cities of all lands and times.  Wherever there is love of beauty, truth, and good, and loyalty to these; wherever there is wonder, reverence, and aspiration; wherever there is devotion to ideal ends of human betterment, - there is our passage free, and there are we at home.

But, if I enlarge my testimony further, I shall certainly be burdensome to you.  A moment’s glance over the lengthy way that we have come together:  A daring faith! faith in religion, blinking nothing of the crimes committed in her name, nothing of present folly that her stolen livery wears; faith in religion, but as morality alone, but as morality and worship; faith in religion as a thing as natural as the blowing clover and the falling rain.  Last but not least, faith in the simplicity of religion, in its transcedency of all dogmatic limitations; faith that it is, at best, a manful recognition of the tender grace and awful sweep of things, and a high and pure resolve to convert this recognition into a voluntary energy of devotion to the Eternal Power that makes for righteousness.  We are so few that I can easily imagine with what scorn and inextinguishable laughter such a horoscope as this would affect the proud and mighty ones of the traditional religion, who sit like gods enthroned, imagining that all the future is in fee for them and theirs forever. We can afford the laughter rand the scorn.  To us belong the future, not to them.  The signs are manifold that the old order changeth, giving place to new.  The air is full of portents of the coming time.  Blessed are the eyes that see the things that we see; for many prophets and kings of thought have desired to see the things tht we see and have not seen them, and to hear the things that we hear and have not heard them.  But, wonderful as is the change already realized, we have every reason to believe that it is little to the change that is impending, and will shortly come to pass.  Doubt not that there awaits a glorious future for religion.  But it will be religion without dogma; a passion for all truth; a great lift of the heart to the ineffable mystery; great hopes for great souls; the moral sentiment supreme.  What have we done that our uplifted foreheads should be kissed by the first tender beams of such a dayspring from on high?  What can we do that we may not be quite unworthy of such heavenly Chrism?






[i] F. H. Hedge, Ways of the Spirit, p.36.

[ii]The Mystery of Matter, J. Allenson Pieton.