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them nothing but truth, and yet make them see nothing but er
may tell more falsehoods without a single false assertion, than a false teacher would tell without a single true assertion. An audience will form a loftier apprehension of God, by hearing from some men the degrading notion that he is not a sovereign, than by hearing from others the ennobling truth that he is
The truth is cast in the mould of error, and the error is cast in the mould of truth; as the material of Apollo's statue may be fashioned into one of Laocoon. There is a valuable class of writers, who in their exhibitions of divine sovereignty, have conjoined it so constantly and intimately with God's pow, er and his right to be a sovereign, that the truth has seemed a hard and harsh truth, grating on the puny sensibilities of man, and leaving him motionless and awe-struck. Their representations will quadrate with the rules of an empirical logic, but are sometimes painfully discrepant with an elevated rhetoric. Their favorite doctrine, proved with so much acuteness, would appear far more amiable, and in its high meaning far more correct, if it were blended more closely with God's love, his regard to the welfare of creatures who need a sovereign. It is not an Almighty Monarch counselling for his own glory, and contriving for his own pleasure, because he has the right to do so; but it is a kind Father who sees that his own glory will be the highest happiness of the universe, and who retains his sovereignty not because it is his sovereignty, but because it is excellent and amiable. The matter of the doctrine is the same, yet it is more seemly, if you set it under the mild and soft shining of the Divine benevolence, than if you keep it in the light of such justice as is a consuming fire. The matter of the doctrine is the same, yet it does not appear so, when on the one hand it is folded up in a sable pall
, and on the other hand is lightly shaded with a becoming gauze.
Next to the reflection upon one truth of the objects associated with it, is the proportion in which the truth is exhibited. One might suppose from reading the works of some excellent divines, that God is a being determined to make all other interests subservient to his own, and therefore causing men to act just as they do act, punishing them for sins which had been decreed as necessary for his glory, and last as well as least, a God of benevolence who has made atonement for man. These divines never say that this is the apposite representation of Jehovah, nor do they utter a word which implies that they have
thus misunderstood the genius of the Gospel ; but they insist on the sterner truths in such vast excess, they make election and reprobation so prominent, that grace and redemption are hidden from the view, and the lamp of mercy, instead of diffusing its radiance over and through the whole system, is like “ a light that shineth in a dark place," "and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” These writers by no means fail to light the candle, but they seem to think that if it be only lighted it may be put any where, under a bushel or a bed. They forget that in some matters position is every thing, and that the minutest disorder of parts is the subversion of the whole. It is indeed essential to a watch that it contain all the wheels, but yet the slightest removal of a single wheel from its proper place makes the whole machine go wrong:
Even if the tangible truth of a doctrine be not lost by infelicities of manner, the influence of it may be. The most cheering and ennobling theme may appear gloomy and dismal, by associating it with uncongenial elements, or by swelling it into a monstrous and unnatural size, or by introducing it at the wrong place or wrong time, or by some such contortions of its form as shall hide the body of the truth under some of its protruded members. So too a doctrine which is authoritative and imposing may appear like a plaything, if a single feature be made more or less prominent than justness of proportion allows. It is said that Apelles, taking the portrait of Antigonus, who had lost an eye, painted his face in profile that he might hide the blemish; and some preachers, it is feared, present an expressive doctrine in profile, and thus hide its true significancy.
There is a grandeur, sublimity, and awe in the idea of benevolence disinterested; of entire self-renunciation and selfcrucifixion for the honor of the great God. Dr. Channing, in allusion to the theology of his early teacher, Dr. Hopkins, says; “ His system, however fearful, was yet built on a generous foundation. He maintained that all holiness, all moral excellence consists in benevolence or disinterested devotion to the greatest good; that this is the character of God; that love is the only principle in the divine administration. He taught that sin was introduced into the creation, and is to be everlastingly punished, because evil is necessary to the highest good. To this government in which the individual is surrendered to the well-being of the whole, he required entire and cheerful submission. Other Calvinists were willing that their neighbors
should be predestinated to eternal misery for the glory of God. This noble-minded man demanded a more generous and impartial virtue, and maintained that we should consent to our own perdition, should be willing ourselves to be condemned, if the greatest good of the universe, and the manifestation of the divine perfections should so require. True virtue, as he taught, was an entire surrender of personal interest to the benevolent purposes of God.
Self-love he spared in none of its movements. He called us to seek our own happiness, as well as that of others, in a spirit of impartial benevolence ; to do good to ourselves not from self-preference, not from the impulse of personal desires, but in obedience to that sublime law, which requires us to promote the welfare of each and all within our influence. I need not be ashamed to confess the deep impression which this system made on my youthful mind. I am grateful to this stern teacher for turning my thoughts and heart to the claims and majesty of impartial, universal benevolence." how completely has the idea of disinterested love, been desecrated, its dignity and moral impression lost, by a current mode of stating it. Whatever of magnificence belongs to the idea has been compressed into a short and sour phrase, “men must be willing to be damned,” a phrase too laconic to express the real truth, and sometimes so uttered as to express a state of heart quite foreign from magnificent; a phrase which was once uttered by the celebrated Dr. B—y in such peculiar circumstances and with such impatience of tone, that it was understood as a provocation to personal banter, and called forth a reply too taunting and even profane to be inserted here: a phrase which, when uttered as well as it can be, would suggest the idea of severity and roughness as often perhaps as that of dignity and grandeur, and would seem sometimes to contravene the spirit of the Bible, which in its anxiety to make us willing to be saved does not, so prominently as some human systems, insist on the need of our being willing to be lost. It is nearly all a fault of mode, rather than of substance, by which disinterested submission has appeared so dissonant from rational and cheering love, and it is a signal specimen of the transforming magic of mere shape.
It is a great and grievous fault of the pulpit, that rhetorical theol
• Discourse delivered at the Dedication of the Unitarian Congregational Church in Newport, R. I. July 27, 1836. By William Ellery Channing, p. 37.
ology is not appreciated. There are men who seem to regard the evangelical system, as it is exhibited in our standard doctrinal treatises, as worthy of a transfer to the pulpit, yet one of the best of these treatises devotes, and that without logical impropriety, seventy pages to the doctrine of angels,” and sixty to the fundamental theme of the conditions of human salvation.” A creed or a catechism is admired by some as embracing the vitality, because it shows the outline of the Bible; and the rugged system of question and answer, with which truant children are frightened, is thought to be the same thing with those words of pleasantness which drop as honey and distil as dew from the sacred page. But the notions, so frigidly and distortedly aggregated in our doctrinal compends, are one thing; the notions so beautifully and gracefully diffused over the sacred page are another thing. They are spirit, they are life. It is not enough when physicians send the hypochondriac to a distant watering place that he say, I have the same waters bottled up in my cellar, a chemical analysis detects the same mineral qualities, and they are so much the better for being old. There are ten thousand influences, swarming in the free air of his journey, which are essential though evanescent parts of the promised panacea.
There is a spirit in theology, and though the matter of it may endure a rough handling, the spirit is ethereal, delicate, shrinking. The least roughness of temper or of tone discomposes, disfigures it. The very breath which utters a truth may taint it, as a polished surface is clouded by breath. The very gestures which enforce it sometimes mar it, as a dew drop is spoiled by a touch of the fingers. The very expression of a speaker's eye blends itself with his subject, and goes out with it, a part of it, as the fragrance of the fruit.
But it is said, we must take the constitution of theology as it is, and not strive to make infringements upon it by catering for the depraved tastes of men. Truth is truth, and so must be preached, unreservedly, as a savor of life unto life, or death unto death. Just as meat is meat and so must be administered, faithfully, to infants and giants, the consumptive, the plethoric and the asthmatic, and all simply because — meat is meat. Now the safer and the more sober way is to deny the fact; meat is not meat ; in certain circumstances it is poison. Truth is not truth, often falsehood; proved by reason, demonstrated by revelation, and yet falsehood. Practically, as it will be understood, in its actual impression, in its essential bearing, it is Vol. X. No. 28.
It is no more truth, than music is music to one whose auricular nerves are so disordered, that the softest harmony grates harsh discord. It is no more truth, than smoothness to the man is smoothness to the insect that wonders at the mountains on the smoothest marble. Truth in its proper conformation and adjustments, in its nice adaptedness to the mind and alliance with congenial feeling; that is truth, that only. We have all, perhaps, heard sermons, crowded with orthodoxy condensed, and yet all that was noble and vivifying in truth, (for truth is the great and free original of which orthodoxy is but a cramped epitome), was so far from these sermons, that we could think of nothing but the dead eyes on an anatomist's table ; not a humor is wanting, not a lens ; each ball is perfect, but where is gone the spirit of the eyes, the power, the brightness, the expressiveness, the every thing save the cold matter and the frightful stare ?-We may believe in the doctrine of human ability ; but when we hear it preached in exclusion of the doctrine of human dependence, we need not believe in it, for though the earth is acted on by a centrifugal force, yet it does not move as if it were acted on by the centrifugal force alone. We may believe in baptism, and in the holy catholic church ; but when these subjects are protruded into notice, as Moses used to be read, every Sabbath-day, we need no more believe in them than think that man's body is his soul. We may have faith in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, but when we hear them recited with scowlings of face, with barbarous and immoral tones, with fierce rheumatic gestures, we may justly doubt whether the Maker of mind ever breathed out such sentiments as these readers are scolding out.
We come now to the second branch of our subject, the means by which we may obtain the best mode of presenting truth. These means are various, but they are all modifications of the general one, a vigorous prosecution of study under the influence of pious emotion. It may not be amiss, however, to specify a few particulars.
In the first place, if we would preach in the right manner, we must faithfully consult the mental state of our hearers. To say that we must study the philosophy of mind is only to say that we must study the principles of rhetoric. We must not be content with mental science in general, for we do not adapt our discourses to mind in general. A sermon written for every body, is like a coat made for every body. There is an adapt