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Food for Thought
It is our hope that these selections from the Unitarian past and present will provide food for thought to help us develop a better appreciation of our faith tradition. Periodically we will post a quote on our members-only e-mail discussion list, and post it here as well. We would genuinely welcome suggestions for quotes to be included in "Food for Thought," please send them to email@example.com
No. 86 (Norton on the Pre-existence of Jesus)
the Apostles had regarded their Master as an incarnation of a great
pre-existent spirit, far superior to man, they would not have left us
to gather their belief from a doubtful interpretation of a few
scattered passages. No fact concerning him, personally, would have
been put forward in their writings with more prominence and
distinctness. None would have been oftener brought into notice. None
would have more strongly affected their imaginations and feelings.
None would have been adapted more to affect their disciples. St.
Matthew would not have written an account of his Master, as it must be
conceded that he has, without anywhere expressly clearing the fact.
The Apostles would have left us in as little doubt concerning their
belief of it, as concerning their belief of his crucifixion and
Norton, A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the
Doctrines of Trinitarians (1856), p. 252.
No. 85 (Parker on Christianity)
“To turn away from the disputes of the Catholics and
the Protestants, of the Unitarian and the Trinitarian, of old school
Parker, from H.S. Commager, Theodore Parker: An
Anthology, p. 56.
No. 84 (Everett on the Historic and Ideal Christ)
“Love, divine and human, is the highest word, a word
which we are even now hardly beginning to comprehend. If Jesus had
merely uttered such teaching, we might have had another school of
philosophy; or we might have had simply another great individual
filling one of the niches of history. It is more probable, however,
that his words, unwritten and unsystematic as they were, would have
been forgotten, and that he would have been forgotten with them. We
certainly should not have had in him the founder of a new religion.
The teaching of Jesus, was, however, embodied in his life. On the
other hand, his life would have been remembered simply as we remember
the lives of other heroes, or it more probably would have been
forgotten, if it had not been the bearer of the teaching which he have
just contemplated. Happily for the world, the two elements, the
teaching and the life, were united in him. Whatever theories we may
hold, whatever theories we may reject, in regard to the nature and the
person of Jesus, his life will have a position and a power unlike that
of any other so long as his teaching retains its place as the
inspiration of the best and truest living.”
No. 83 (Channing on the Sufferings of Christ)
“I am persuaded that a love to Christ of quite a low character is often awakened by an injudicious use of his sufferings. I apprehend that if the affection which many bear to Jesus were analyzed, the chief ingredient in it would be found to be a tenderness awakened by his cross. In certain classes of Christians, it is common for the religious teacher to delineate the bleeding, dying Saviour, and to detail his agonies, until men's natural sympathy is awakened; and when assured that this deep woe was borne for themselves, they almost necessarily yield to the softer feelings of their nature. I mean not to find fault with this sensibility. It is happy for us that we are made to be touched by others’ pains. Woe to him who has no tears for mortal agony! But in this emotion there is no virtue, no moral worth; and we dishonor Jesus when this is the chief tribute we offer him. I say there is no moral goodness in this feeling. To be affected, overpowered by a crucifixion, is the most natural thing in the world. Who of us, let me ask, whether religious or not, ever went into a Catholic church, and there saw the picture of Jesus hanging from his cross, his head bending under the weight of exhausting suffering, his hands and feet pierced with nails, and his body stained with his open wounds, and has not been touched by the sight? Suppose that, at this moment, there were lifted up among us a human form, transfixed with a spear, and from which the warm life-blood was dropping in the midst of us. Who would not be deeply moved? And when a preacher, gifted with something of an actor's power, places the cross, as it were, in the midst of a people, is it wonderful that they are softened and subdued? I mean not to censure all appeals of this kind to the human heart. There is something interesting and encouraging in the tear of compassion…. But sensibility thus awakened is quite a different thing from true, virtuous love to Jesus Christ; and, when viewed and cherished as such it takes the place of higher affections. I have often been struck by the contrast between the use made of the cross in the pulpit, and the calm, unimpassioned manner in which the sufferings of Jesus are detailed by the Evangelists. These witnesses of Christ's last moments give you in simple language the particulars of that scene, without one remark, one word of emotion; and if you read the Acts and Epistles, you will not find a single instance in which the Apostles strove to make a moving picture of his crucifixion. No; they honored Jesus too much, they felt too deeply the greatness of his character to be moved as many are by the circumstances of his death. Reverence, admiration, sympathy with his sublime spirit, these swallowed up, in a great measure, sympathy with his sufferings. The cross was to them the last crowning manifestation of a celestial mind; they felt that it was endured to communicate the same mind to them and the world; and their emotion was a holy joy in this consummate and unconquerable goodness. To be touched by suffering is a light thing. It is not the greatness of Christ's sufferings on the cross which is to move our whole souls, but the greatness of the spirit with which he suffered. There, in death, he proved his entire consecration of himself to the cause of God and mankind. There his love flowed forth towards his friends, his enemies, and the human race. It is moral greatness, it is victorious love, it is the energy of principle, which gives such interest to the cross of Christ. We are to look through the darkness which hung over him, through his wounds and pains, to his unbroken, disinterested, confiding spirit. To approach the cross for the purpose of weeping over a bleeding, dying friend, is to lose the chief influence of the crucifixion. We are to visit the cross, not to indulge a natural softness, but to acquire firmness of spirit, to fortify our minds for hardship and suffering in the cause of duty and of human happiness. To live as Christ lived, to die as Christ died, to give up ourselves as sacrifices to God, to conscience, to whatever good interest we can advance, -- these are the lessons written with the blood of Jesus. His cross is to inspire us with a calm courage, resolution, and superiority to all temptation. I fear (is my fear groundless?) that a sympathy which enervates rather than fortifies, is the impression too often received from the crucifixion. The depression with which the Lord's table is too often approached, and too often left, shows, I apprehend, that the chief use of his sufferings is little understood, and that he is loved, not as a glorious sufferer who died to spread his own sublime spirit, but as a man of sorrows, a friend bowed down with the weight of grief.”
--William Ellery Channing, “Love to Christ (Part Two)”
No. 82 (Hedge on the Purpose of Revelation)
“The purpose of revelation is not to settle speculative questions depending on the nice interpretation of words, but to infuse a new spirit into human things, to illustrate great principles of practical import with new sanctions. The principles are eternal; the dogmas in which they are embodied are limited and transient.”
--Frederic Henry Hedge, Reason in Religion (1865), p. 408.
No. 81 (Parker on Evil)
“All the evil of the world is something incident to man’s development, and no more permanent than the stumbling of a child who learns to walk, or his scrawling letters when he first essays to write. It will be outgrown, and not a particle of it or its consequences shall cleave permanent to mankind. This is true of the individual wrongs which you and I commit; and likewise of such vast wickedness as war, political oppression, and the hypocrisy of priesthoods. These are blots in mankind’s writing-book, which we make in learning to copy out God’s eternal rule of right in fair round letters, so clear that he may read who runs. The very pain the error gives is remedial, not revengeful; it is medicine to cure and save and bless, not poison to kill and torture with eternal smart. Here then is a God you can trust—power, wisdom, will, justice also, and likewise love. What quality is there a man can ask for that is not in the Infinite, Perfect God?”
--Theodore Parker, “The Natural and Philosophical Idea of God,” an 1855 sermon published in the book, The World of Matter and the Spirit of Man (1907), p. 162.
No. 80 (Clarke on Spiritual Discernment)
“The Bible says, and says correctly, that
‘spiritual things are spiritually discerned.’ Man has various
organs by which he discerns various realities. Each class of realities
is discerned through its own organ. In externals, we know this well
enough. We never expect to see with our hands, or to smell with our
ears. We know that we cannot do a sum in the rule of three by our
nose, or taste with our tongue the proper translation of a Greek
sentence. Visible things, we know, are optically discerned, by the
eyes; audible things are discerned audibly, by the ears; tangible
things are discerned by the touch; logical things
--James Freeman Clarke, “Imperfect and Perfect Theism,” from the book, Steps of Belief (1870).
79 (Walker on Belief in the Spiritual World)
“Every man, woman, and child believes in his or her own existence, and in that of the outward universe or sensible world; but not because the existence of either is susceptible of proof by a process of reasoning. Not the semblance, not the shadow, of a sound logical argument can be adduced in proof of our own existence or that of the outward universe. We believe in the existence of both, it is true; but it is only because we are so constituted as to make it a matter of intuition. Let it be distinctly understood, therefore, that our conviction of the existence of the sensible world does not rest on a logical deduction from the facts of sensation, or of sensation and consciousness. It rests on the constitution of our nature. It is resolvable into a fundamental law of belief. It is held, not as a logical inference, but as a first principle. With the faculties we possess, and in the circumstances in which we are placed, the idea grows up in the mind, and we cannot expel it if we would.
Now the question arises, On what does a devout man’s conviction of the existence and reality of the spiritual world depend? I answer, On the very same. He is conscious of spiritual impressions or perceptions, as he also is of sensible impressions or perceptions; but he does not think to demonstrate the existence and reality of the objects of either by a process of reasoning. He does not take the facts of his inward experience, and hold to the existence and reality of the spiritual world as a logical deduction from these facts, but as an intuitive suggestion grounded on these facts. He believes in the existence and reality of the spiritual world, just as he believes in his own existence and reality, and just as he believes in the existence and reality of the outward universe, —simply and solely because he is so constituted that with his impressions or perceptions he cannot help it.”
--James Walker, “The Philosophy of Man’s Spiritual Nature in Regard to the Foundations of Faith,” an 1834 sermon published in Reason, Faith, and Duty: Sermons Preached Chiefly in the College Chapel (1877).
78 (Channing on Jesus)
“Jesus is his religion embodied and made visible. The connection between him and his system is peculiar. It differs altogether from that which ancient philosophers bore to their teachings. An ancient sage wrote a book, and the book is of equal value to us whether we know its author or not. But there is no such thing as Christianity without Christ. We cannot know it separately from him. It is not a book which Jesus wrote. It is his conversation, his character, his history, his life, his death, his resurrection. He pervades it throughout. In loving him, we love his religion; and a just interest in this cannot be awakened, but by contemplating it as it shone forth in himself.”
--William Ellery Channing, “Love to Christ (Part Two)”
No. 77 (Clarke on Natural Science)
“Natural science looks only at facts and laws, and sometimes forgets that a law is only a method of working, and that behind all law there must be power…. Theology has no quarrel at all with science, while science shows how things come to exist. But to show how they come, is not to show why they come. Law is not power; law is not intelligence; law is not goodness. Law itself implies a law-maker and a law-enforcer; and, if the law works for the general good, that the law-maker and law-enforcer is also beneficent. That is, the law implies wisdom, power, and goodness behind it. Science, therefore, produces imperfect theism, not while it is genuine science, but when it goes out of its province of observing facts and inferring laws, and assumes that these facts and laws are sufficient to account for the universe.”
--James Freeman Clarke, “Imperfect and Perfect Theism,” from the book, Steps of Belief (1870).
No. 76 (Hedge on the Greater Faith)
“Which requires the greater faith, —to comply with custom and tradition, or to refuse compliance? Non-conformity, no doubt, may sometimes arise from irreligion and unbelief; men may neglect a religious ordinance from want of interest and want of faith; but when it is faith that impels dissent, as in the case of such earnest and heroic and devout natures as are sometimes found in that predicament, that faith is unquestionably greater than the faith expressed by any works of conformity and tradition.”
--Frederic Henry Hedge, Reason in Religion (1865), p. 319.
No. 75 (Ware on Faith)
“All this is comprised in Faith: the subjection of the Understanding, the Affections, the Will and the Life. When concerned with the Understanding, it is simple belief. When wrought into the Affections, it takes the name and character of trust; and when, beyond this, it bends the Will and forms the Active character—it shows itself to be no less than the religious principle, the great all-powerful principle, by which man is moulded into a conformity with his Creator, and made such as Christ came to fashion him.”
--Henry Ware, Jr., “Sermon on Faith,” The Western Messenger 1.5 (Nov. 1835), pp. 330-338.
No. 74 (Sears on Seeing Oneself)
“There is a way, which is simple and direct, to him who earnestly desires to see himself as he is. It is by turning the soul towards God. It is by communing with the Eternal Purity, whose spirit ever broods over the chaos within us and seeks to separate its elements into determinate form and order. Before the Divine nature, all that is wrong in our own is revealed by contrast and appears black in the light. The Eternal Law shines down through our being and shows our desires and aims in opposition to its own sanctity.”
--Edmund Hamilton Sears, “The Books Opened,” from the book Regeneration (1854).
No. 73 (Peabody on Free Will)
“It is urged against the freedom of the human will that it is inconsistent with God's foreknowledge of future events, and thus represents the Supreme Being as not omniscient, and in that particular finite and imperfect. To this objection we reply: (a) If human freedom and the Divine foreknowledge of human acts are mutually incompatible, we must still retain the freedom of the will as a truth of consciousness; for if we discredit our own consciousness, we cannot trust even the act of the understanding by which we set it aside, which act we know by the testimony of consciousness alone. (b) If the acts of a freely willing being cannot be foreknown, the ignorance of them does not detract from the perfectness of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot make two and two five. Omnipotence cannot do what is intrinsically impossible. No more can Omniscience know what is intrinsically unknowable. (c) If God's foreknowledge is entire, it must include his own acts, no less than those of men. If his foreknowledge of men's acts is incompatible with their freedom, then his foreknowledge of his own acts is incompatible with his own freedom. We have, therefore, on the theory of necessity, instead of a Supreme Will on the throne of the universe, mere fate or destiny. This is equivalent to the denial of a personal God. (d) It cannot be proved that God's foreknowledge and man's free will are incompatible with each other. The most that we can say is that we do not fully see how they are to be reconciled, which is the case with many pairs of undoubted truths that might be named. But while a perfect explanation of the harmony of the Divine foreknowledge and human freedom is beyond the scope of our faculties, we may explain it in part, from our own experience. Human foreknowledge extends very far and with a great degree of certainty, without abridging the freedom of those to whom it relates. When we can foresee outward events, we can often foretell, with little danger of mistake, the courses of conduct to which they will give rise. In view of the extent and accuracy of human foresight, we cannot pronounce it impossible, that He who possesses antecedent knowledge of the native constitution of every human being, and of the shaping circumstances and influences to which each being is subjected, may foreknow men's acts, even though their wills be entirely free.”
--Andrew Preston Peabody, A Manual of Moral Philosophy (1873).
No. 72 (Channing on
“It is a natural and generous impulse of nature to love the country which gave us birth, by whose institutions we have been moulded, by whose laws defended, and with whose soil and scenery innumerable associations of early years, of domestic affection, and of friendship, have been formed. But this sentiment often degenerates into a narrow, partial, exclusive attachment, alienating us from other branches of the human family, and instigating to aggression on other states. In ancient times, this principle was developed with wonderful energy, and sometimes absorbed every other sentiment. To the Roman, Rome was the universe. Other nations were of no value but to grace her triumphs, and illustrate her power; and he, who in private life would have disdained injustice and oppression, exulted in the successful violence by which other nations were bound to the chariot wheels of this mistress of the world. This spirit still exists. The tie of country is thought to absolve men from the obligations of universal justice and humanity. Statesmen and rulers are expected to build up their own country at the expense of others; and, in the false patriotism of the citizen, they have a security for any outrages, which are sanctioned by success.”
--William Ellery Channing, “War” (1816).
No. 71 (Mayhew on Number as
the Criterion of True Religion)
“Since truth and right have a real existence in nature, independent on the sentiments and practices of men, they do not necessarily follow the multitude, or major part; nor ought we to make number the criterion of true religion. Men are fickle and various and contradictory in their opinions and practices; but truth and moral rectitude are things fixed, stable and uniform, having their foundation in the nature of things. They will not change their nature out of complaisance to the most numerous and powerful body of men in the world. We may conform to them; but they will not condescend to us.”
--Jonathan Mayhew, Seven Sermons (1750).
No. 70 (Hedge on Revelation)
“The first revelation of God is a revelation to the moral sense. For what is it in God that is nearest to man, and which man is most concerned to know? Not his creative power, not the fact of creatorship, but the moral archetype, the moral ideal, which, received by the conscience, becomes the moral law. If God were merely omnipotent force or transcendent skill; if all that could be said of him were, that "he can create and he destroy," or that the universe is his handiwork, it would matter little whether we knew him or knew him not; it would matter little whether the universe were conceived as the product of a single will or of many wills, or whether as a self-existent power. What it really concerns us to know of God, is, not that he made the worlds, but that he is justice and truth and holiness and love. And of this the evidence is not external, but internal.”
--Frederic Henry Hedge, Reason in Religion (1865), p. 56.
No. 69 (Ware on the Antiquity
of Unitarian Christianity)
“We hear it often urged, among other objections to the doctrines of Unitarian Christianity, that they are new, that they are now for the first time presented to the world; whereas if they are true and constitute a genuine part of the gospel, it is incredible that they should not early have been discovered to be there, and traces should not be found of them all along through the history of the church. We believe this to be the demonstrable fact; we believe them to have been the earliest of all the forms of Christianity which obtained a general currency and belief, and that from the time they were in a manner extinguished by the violent measures employed against them, they at intervals reappeared and were avowed by free and courageous minds, till at the present day they have spread themselves everywhere, where religious liberty is enjoyed.”
--William Ware, Antiquity and Revival of Unitarian Christianity (1831).
No. 68 (Parker on Human
“There are some things which are true, independent of all human opinions. Such things we call facts…. No man made these things true; no man can make them false…. So there are likewise some things which are right, independent of all human opinion. Thus it is right to love a man and not to hate him, to do him justice and not injustice, to allow him the natural rights which he has not alienated. No man made these things right; no man can make them wrong.”
--Theodore Parker, “Transcendentalism” (1850), in Theodore Parker: An Anthology (1960).
No. 67 (King on Creeds)
“We have a right to say now, in the interest of vital Christianity, that all theories of Christ’s rank and office, and all catechism and creeds, are indifferent to the Spirit, so far as they belong to the speculative science of the Infinite, or to the philosophical interpretation of Scripture…. I do not argue that truth of creed is unimportant. I do not say that a symmetrical and pure theology, an adequate interpretation of the office of Christ and the meaning of Christianity is not a desirable thing. But I say that unless a man values and uses his conception of Christ, or his creed, as a medium of the Spirit, as a lens to condense the radiance of the everlasting world upon his soul, a perfect surface-believer is of no account. Some creeds have truth and little power; others have power and very little truth.”
--Thomas Starr King, “Spiritual Christianity” (1861).
No. 66 (Ware on Children)
“It is often said that children are naturally inclined to falsehood and deception, and that they early lie and deceive, rather than speak the truth. But this charge needs proof; and I apprehend it will be found that evidence is abundantly against it, and in favour of the natural veracity of children. It will rarely be found that children disregard the truth, till by example, or bad education, or peculiar circumstances of temptation, they have learned to overcome and counteract the tendency of nature…. It is alleged also that children are naturally cruel, and in proof of it, the pleasure they seem to take in torturing insects and small animals is sometimes mentioned. But the pleasure, which the convulsions and throes of a tortured insect or animal give to a child arises from another source than cruelty, or the desire of giving pain. It is wholly to be attributed to the love of excitement and the pleasure it takes in rapid and violent motion and is wholly unconnected with the idea of suffering in the creature, with whose convulsions it is delighted. The same pleasure would be derived from the power of producing the same convulsive motions and the same appearance in any inanimate substance…. The same account is to be given of what is often called a mischievous disposition in children. It is not the love of mischief, but an exuberant love of activity. The mischief or inconvenience which they occasion to others is no part of the motive, but simply the love of action and strong excitement…. Indeed I know not a single mark of early depravity, common to children in general, which may not, as these are, be traced to causes which imply no degree of depravity and no fault of character or of disposition.”
--Henry Ware, “The Nature of Man,” Letters Addressed to Trinitarians and Calvinists (1820).
No. 65 (Walker on Conscience)
“It belongs to man, in which he would seem to differ essentially from the inferior animals, to make himself and his own thoughts an object of thought; not only to know what he is doing, but to be able to review his conduct and compare it with an ideal standard of expediency and right; in one word, to call himself into account. Not only is he able to do this, but through his moral and intellectual constitution it is forced on him as a practical necessity…. Moreover, the self-judgment here referred to is understood and felt to be of an authority and sanction higher than that of man. We cannot shake off the conviction that there is a divine, as well as a human, element in conscience. The opinion which we form as to what is right in any particular instance, is a mere human opinion. It may be true, and it may be false; one thing today, and another thing tomorrow. But the sense of obligation under which we are laid to judge ourselves by some acknowledged standard of right, and to bring ourselves into conformity to it as we best can, is not human. It does not depend on our will. It is the decree of our nature; and our nature is the decree of God. It is the voice of God speaking to us through the human faculties, ordained by him for that purpose.”
--James Walker, “The Day of Judgment,” Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Harvard College (1861).
No. 64 (Clarke on the Church)
“We think it is possible for the Church to be united on a basis of study and action rather than on that of attainment. Instead of having it consist of those who have formed opinions, let it consist of those who wish to form them. Instead of having it consist of those who have been converted, and who believe themselves pious, let it consist of those who wish to be converted, and who desire to be pious.”
--James Freeman Clarke, “The Christian Church,” Orthodoxy: Its Truth and Errors (1866).
No. 63 (King on the Church)
“This is my view of the work of the Church—to make men inwardly Christian by drawing out their affections to what is pure and holy, and thus sending them as reformatory agencies into society to work whichever way their active instincts move.”
--Thomas Starr King, Letter to Randolph Ryer, June 11, 1849.
No. 62 (David Starr Jordan on Humor)
It is therefore good to look on the cheerful side of life. A touch of humor is necessary to the salvation of the serious man. It is a gift of the men of America to see droll things and to express them in droll fashion. To see the funny side of one’s own accomplishments is the highest achievement of the American philosopher and there is hope for the land in which the greatest wits have been the most earnest of moral teachers. … A touch of humor recalls us to our senses. It "makes the whole world kin."
David Starr Jordan, Life’s Enthusiasms (1908)
No. 61 (James Martineau on Channing)
There is no "beginning anew" in so old a world as ours; and, in dealing with the present, we cannot rid ourselves of our reckoning with the past. Not all souls at once, even if snatched from their surroundings, can prove as fresh and open as the prophet hopes. But one by one he may take us apart, and win us by his word of truth and grace, and life us to a mind much nearer God. And who can deny that so it has been with our beloved and saintly Channing? However many may still be unmelted by the fervor of his faith, he has at least convinced us that we are cold; and to not a few he has brought an inwardness and spirituality of religion, a sanctity and tenderness of moral experience, a generous and hopeful estimate of human things, by which their whole character has been transformed. Once such discipline were a better monument of his true greatness than genius and art could raise. For "no poem," as he said, "is so glorious as a Christian life; and he who incites a fellow creature to this produces a work which will outlast all other works of the mind."
James Martineau, "The Temple Not Made with Hands," in Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine (1880).
No. 60 (Bixby on Pantheism)
If attributes of Infinity and Absoluteness cannot be reconciled with such a Divine Personality, let us surrender the former rather than the latter. Philosophical considerations may perhaps strongly suggest the metaphysical attributes. But the tender spiritual traits are absolutely essential to the life of religion. The entire circle of religious acts and ceremonies has and must have, for its centre, a person. To know God as a friend, and feel him not afar off, -- this is the inextinguishable longer of the spirit.
James T. Bixby, "Truths and Errors of Pantheism," in Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine (1880).
No. 59 (Unity in Diversity)
Unitarian churches are dedicated to the progressive transformation and ennoblement of individual and social life, through religion, in accordance with the advancing knowledge and the growing vision of mankind. Bound by this common purpose, and committed to freedom of belief, Unitarians hold in unity of spirit a diversity of convictions.
Printed on American Unitarian Association pamphlets in the 1940s. By this time, the humanist atheist wing of the AUA was sufficiently strong that references to God and Jesus were no longer acceptable as a description of Unitarian faith.
No. 58 (Our Faith)
We believe in:
The Fatherhood of God;
This was a common formulation of Unitarian faith from roughly 1870 until the late 1920s.
No. 57 (Sunderland on Channing)
Channing is often misrepresented here. It is common to speak of him as one who always expressed his own views but did not antagonize the views of others, -- one who, as the phrase is, "preached things positive but not things negative," – "built up but did not tear down." In a sense this was true, but in a sense it was not. No man ever aimed at the constructive as the ultimate end of all his efforts more constantly than did Channing. But he was not such a Don Quixote as to suppose that construction on any large scale can be accomplished without some destruction. Before a new building can be erected, any structure occupying the ground before must come down.
Channing not only set forth his Unitarian ideas in clear light, but he also took the greatest pains to show how they differed from the old ideas, and in what (sic) in his judgment they were superior. He held up the old faith and the new side by side, doctrine by doctrine, and said to the people "Look on the two and judge between them."
From Jabez T. Sunderland, "The Story of Channing: His Life, Thought and World-Wide Influence" (1921).
No. 56 (Hedge on Reason and Faith)
No. 55 (Bellows on Faith)"There are two motions of the spirit in relation to God...essential to the very existence of generic or individual Man--a centrifugal and a centripetal motion--the motion that sends man away from God, to learn his freedom, to develop his personal powers and faculties, relieved of the over-awing and predominating presence of his Author; and the motion that draws him back to God, to receive the inspiration, nurture and endowment, which he has become strong enough to hold. For man, though a creature of faculties, is still more a creature of capacities; and his capacities must be developed before they can be filled--his vessel shaped before it can go to the fountain. He must have freedom before he can yield obedience; he must possess a will before he can surrender it; affections trained to love visible objects before they can love the unseen Source; intellectual and moral independence to make his loyalty significant and his service blessed. Accordingly, the origin and history of the race exhibits the care with which God has hidden himself away from his creatures in the infancy of their existence, lest they should be scorched and shrivelled in the glory of his presence. And yet his whole purpose is to create a race that can live in his conscious society, without losing their individuality and freedom in gaining his inspiration and guidance." -- Henry Whitney Bellows, "The Suspense of Faith" (1859).
No. 54 (Hall on Public Worship)
"To Foster a noble religion in solitude is almost an impossibility. Men attain a deeper consciousness of God through associating with one another in their best moments."
Alfred Hall, "Public Worship," The Beliefs of a Unitarian (1932)
No. 53 (Parker on Eternal Life)
At the grave the "Atheist" and the theological "Christian" look each other in the face; one has laid away his daughter for annihilation - he is the father of nothing; the other has buried his son in eternal torment, the father of a devil's victim, of a soul forever damned! What comfort has the one from Nothing, the other from Hell? Human nature tells both, "it is a lie. Atheism is here a lie; the popular theology is there another lie."
Yes, it is a lie. Eternal morning follows the night; Life rises out of the grave, the Soul cannot be held by festering flesh. The Infinite Mother will mercifully chasten, heal, and bless even the prodigal whom death surprised impenitent; Love shall cast out fear.
Theodore Parker, "Immortal Life," in Sermons of Theism, Atheism and the Popular Theology (1856)
No. 52 (Clarke on Christ)
And who was Christ? ... He calls himself "the Way, the Truth and the Life;" he says, "For this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, -- to bear witness to the truth." He bears witness to what he has seen of the Divine laws, -- to what he not only thinks or believes, but knows. We can therefore rely on his authority, for it is the authority of insight and knowledge. He speaks what he knows, and testifies to what he has seen. He saw, with the inward eye of inspiration, the facts and laws of the spiritual world, as we see with the outward eye the facts of the physical world.
James Freeman Clarke, "Christ and Christianity," in Essentials and Non-Essentials in Religion (1877)
No. 51 (Hedge on the Mythical Element in the Bible)
Christianity assures the truth of certain facts; but by no means all the facts affirmed by the writers of the New Testament. Faith in Christianity as divine dispensation does not imply, and must not be held to the belief, as veritable history, of all that is recorded in the Gospel. Not the historic sense, but the spiritual import; not the facts, but the ideas of the Gospel, are the genuine topics of faith.
Frederic Henry Hedge, "The Mythical Element in the New Testament," in Christianity and Modern Thought, a collection of discourses published by the American Unitarian Association in 1872. Each was written by a different author and delivered in 1871 or 1872 at both King's Chapel and the Hollis Street Church.
No. 50 (Clarke on Repentance and Faith)
"Repentance and faith, -- these are the two poles of Christian experience, around which it must ever revolve. Call them by other names, if you will, -- "sin and pardon;" "determination to obey God, and trust in his love;" "doing our duty, and praying for help to do it right;" "law and grace;" "works and faith;" or more largely generalized, "the sense of responsibility and the sense of dependence," - these are the two essential elements of all vital religion. Man, born with a conscience which gives him the idea of an eternal law of duty, of an everlasting distinction between good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong, knows well that he ought always to choose the good and refuse the evil. This is the doctrine, not of Christianity or Judaism only, but of natural religion everywhere; and this law of obligation is unchanging and everlasting. This law of duty, which is above man, is also in man, rooted an fixed in the very texture of his soul, and we never escape from it but by fulfilling it." (emphasis in original)
James Freeman Clarke, "How Does a Man Become At One with God?" in Esssentials and Non-Essentials in Religion (1878).
No. 49 (Clarke on Transcendentalism)
"I am a transcendentalist. I do not believe that man's senses tell him all he knows. Man is more certain of those truths which come to him through his reason than of those which come to him through his sense. He knows the ideal realities received through reason better than he knows those transmitted through sense. He knows cause and effect, phenomenon and substance, right and wrong, the infinite and the eternal, his own identity, his power of free choice. These ideas are divinely created within him, divinely rooted in the very texture of his reason."
James Freeman Clarke, "Faith and Belief," in Esssentials and Non-Essentials in Religion (1878).
No. 48 (Eliot on Religious Movements)
"A significant religious movement must thus cherish the good that the past has had, and at the same time welcome the infusion of new methods and measures. It must blend the new and the old in just proportion, and join to the steadfastness of good habit the joy of fresh experiment. It must unite the maturity of age with the elasticity of youth. It must at once conserve and create."
From the Introduction to Heralds of a Liberal Faith, by Samuel A. Eliot
No. 47 (Clarke on Islam)
"Nevertheless, Mohammedanism still claims a special interest and excites a peculiar curiosity. It is the only religion which has threatened Christianity with a dangerous rivalry. It is the only other religion whose origin is in the broad daylight of history.
"… the monotheism of Mohammed is that which makes God pure will; that is, which exaggerates personality (since personality is will), making the Divine One and Infinite Free Will, or an Infinite I. But will divorced from reason and love is willfulness, or a purely arbitrary will. …
"Mohammed teaches not only the unity but also the spirituality of God, but his idea of the divine Unity is of a numeric unity, not a moral unity; and so his idea of divine spirituality is that of an abstract spirituality, -- God abstracted from matter, and so not to be represented by pictures and images; God withdrawn out of the world, and above all, in a total separation. …
"Mohammed teaches a God above us; Moses teaches a God above us yet with us; Jesus teaches God above us, God with us, and God in us."
James Freeman Clarke, "Mohammed and Islam," in Ten Great Religions (1880)
No. 46 (Clarke on the Danger of Extremes)
"But in all extremes there are dangers. The modern equivalent for "the glory of God" would be Truth, Goodness, Humanity, Universal Progress, or some such generalization. But the same danger of egotism emerges here also. Men whose lives are devoted to these large abstractions, patriots, philanthropists, and reformers of all sorts, are often forgetful of daily duties, neglectful of home ties. This, at least, is their risk, -- if they fall, they fall in that direction.
James Freeman Clarke, "Man’s Duty to Grow," in Self-Culture: Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Spiritual (1892)
No. 45 (Emerton on Vicarious Atonement)
"So it is, again, with the notion of a vicarious atonement, the sacrifice of one for the sin of all. Before that idea, as before hardly any other in the historic Christian entanglement, the Unitarian stands in blank incomprehension. It is perfectly clear to him that the heroism which inspires a voluntary sacrifice of pleasant things for a greater good to others is contagious – fruitful in results of faith and courage, perhaps to generations of men. …[w]hat gives to each generation and to each individual its power to meet the forces of evil is not merely the power of the age or the man that has gone before. From that or from him it receives inspiration and support, but its forces comes from the enlightened and disciplined will, which is its own.
Ephraim Emerton in Unitarian Thought (1911)
No. 44 (Emerton on Truth)
"This independence of all formal authority is thus the Unitarian’s first demand as he approaches the subject of religious belief. The second is that religious truth shall not conflict with any other, or with all other forms of truth. He does not mean by this that it shall be subject to the same kind of tests. He is quite aware that it cannot be demonstrated like a proposition in mathematics. It cannot be illustrated by experiment or observation like an alleged fact of natural science. … The witness of the spirit is something different from all these. And yet we have the right to demand that it shall not contradict any one or all of them."
Ephraim Emerton in Unitarian Thought (1911)
No. 43 (Hall on Public Worship)
"To Foster a noble religion in solitude is almost an impossibility. Men attain a deeper consciousness of God through associating with one another in their best moments."
Alfred Hall, "Public Worship," The Beliefs of a Unitarian (1932)
No. 42 (Parker on Eternal Life)
At the grave the "Atheist" and the theological "Christian" look each other in the face; one has laid away his daughter for annihilation – he is the father of nothing; the other has buried his son in eternal torment, the father of a devil’s victim, of a soul forever damned! What comfort has the one from Nothing, the other from Hell? Human nature tells both, "it is a lie. Atheism is here a lie; the popular theology is there another lie."
Yes, it is a lie. Eternal morning follows the night; … Life rises out of the grave, the Soul cannot be held by festering flesh. … The Infinite Mother will mercifully chasten, heal, and bless even the prodigal whom death surprised impenitent; Love shall cast out fear.
Theodore Parker, "Immortal Life," in Sermons of Theism, Atheism and the Popular Theology (1856)
No. 41 (Eliot on Knowing Jesus)
"But I believe that it is worth while to make the effort to know Jesus, to take sufficient time to get to know him, in the sense of reading what he has to say and thinking about it, and reading what other people have thought of him and thinking about that. If you sincerely and patiently make this effort, then something very extraordinary will happen to you. You will find that all the barriers between you and Jesus – barriers of time and place and of differing circumstances, barriers of theology and of superstition – will fall. In spite of all those barriers, his human leadership will touch your heart.
Frederick M. Eliot, "Unitarian Faith in Leadership," Fundamentals of Unitarian Faith (1926)
No. 40 (Channing on Knowing God)
"We grant that God is incomprehensible, in the sense already given. But he is not therefore unintelligible; and this distinction we conceive to be important. We do not pretend to know the whole nature and properties of God, but still we can form some clear ideas of him, and can reason from these ideas as justly as from any other. The truth is, that we cannot be said to comprehend any being whatever, not the simplest plant or animal. All have hidden properties. Our knowledge of all is limited. But have we therefore no distinct ideas of the objects around us, and is all our reasoning about them unworthy of trust? [Emphasis in original]
William Ellery Channing, "The Moral Argument Against Calvinism" (1809)
No. 39 (Parker on Whether Jesus Would Today Be Regarded as Christian)
"If Jesus of Nazareth were to come back and preach his ideas of theology as he set them forth in Judea, they would not be accepted as Christianity. I think no one of the apostles even would be thought Christian in any Church in the world."
Theodore Parker, "Popular Theology," in Sermons of Theism, Atheism and the Popular Theology (1856)
No. 38 (Channing on Prayer)
"The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments agree in enjoining prayer. Let no man call himself a Christian who lives without giving a part of life to this duty. We are not taught how often we must pray; but our Lord, in teaching us to say, "Give us this day our daily bread," implies that we should pray daily. … Our religion is too liberal and spiritual to bind us to any place or any hour of prayer. … Let our prayers, like the ancient sacrifices, ascend morning and evening. Let our days begin and end with God.
William Ellery Channing, "Daily Prayer," in Collected Works (1875)
No. 37 (Eliot on God and Natural Law)
"Whatever else Unitarians may believe about God, they will not entertain any doctrine which throws the slightest shadow of a doubt upon the trustworthiness of the reign of natural law. They believe it is far safer and far more intelligent to trust that law than to confide in a deity whose actions may be dictated by whim or caprice."
Frederick M. Eliot, "Unitarian Faith in God," Fundamentals of Unitarian Faith (1926)
No. 36, January 21, 2003 (Emerton on God Indwelling and Transcendent)
Unity is the first fact of the divine nature as to which the Unitarian is sure beyond the possibility of doubt. The second is that the God he worships is not himself. He can conceive of God only as a being outside the thinking mind of man, the "something not ourselves" that sums up to us all our highest ideas of what is needed to hold the universe in order and to make clear to us our true place in that ordered universe. In other words, the God of the Unitarian is a transcendent God, a reality, and not a fiction of the human mind. But the moment he has made this clear to himself, there comes another thought equally clear and equally insistent, namely, that this same God, outside ourselves and outside the universe, is at the same time within us and within the universe. This double aspect of the deity is possible only through the earlier conviction that God is spirit.
Ephraim Emerton, "The Thought of God," Unitarian Thought (1911). Ephraim Emerton was a professor of Church History at Harvard University.
No. 35, January 17, 2003 (Hedge on Revelation)
The fruit of revelation is tradition; but revelation itself, in its origin and essence, is spiritual insight. The different terms express two different aspects of one fact. Spiritual insight is the human aspect; revelation, the divine. But spiritual insight is something far different from induction or ratiocination. The knowledge of God is not a conclusion of the understanding, but an intuition of the moral sense....
All revelation is in man and through man. It is not an unearthly voice speaking to us out of the clouds: it not an angelic apparition; but always the voice of a brother man that instructs and exhorts. And that voice is not the revelation itself, but only its witness and declaration. The true revelation is internal. The only effectual knowledge of God is the private experience of the individual soul.
Frederic Henry Hedge, Reason in Religion (1865).
No. 34, January 10, 2003 (Clarke on Christianity, Islam and Judaism)
But Christianity, as soon as it become the religion of a non-Semitic race, as soon as it had converted the Greeks and the Romans, not only imparted to them its monotheism, but received from them their strong tendencies to pantheism. They added to the God “above all,” and the God “with all,” the God “in us all.” True, this is also to be found in original Christianity as proceeding from the life of Jesus. The New Testament is full of this kind of pantheism, -- God in man, as well as God with man. Jesus made the step forward from God with man to God in man, -- “I in them, thou in me.” The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is this idea, of God who is not only will and power, not only wisdom and law, but also love; of a God who desires communion and intercourse with his children, so coming and dwelling in them. Mohammed teaches a God above us; Moses teaches a God above us and yet with us; Jesus teaches God above us, God with us and God in us.
James Freeman Clarke, "Mohammed and Islam," Ten Great Religions (1871).
Food for Thought (No. 33, December 12, 2002) (Channing on Denunciation in Religion)
But whatever may be the right of Christians, as to bearing testimony against opinions which they deem injurious, I deny that they have any right to pass a condemning sentence, on account of these opinions, on the characters of men whose general deportment is conformed to the gospel of Christ. Both Scripture and reason unite that the best and only standard of character is the life; and he who overlooks the testimony of a Christian life, and grounds a sentence of condemnation on opinions about which he, as well as his brother, may err, violates most flagrantly the duty of just and candid judgment and opposes the peaceful and charitable spirit of the gospel.
William Ellery Channing
The System of Exclusion and Denunciation in Religion Considered (1815)
Food for Thought (No. 32, November 4, 2002) (U.G.B. Pierce
on the breadth and
Food for Thought (No. 31, October 27, 2002) (from "The Future Life" in Essentials and Non-Essentials in Religion, by James Freeman Clarke, 1877)
One of the last great discoveries of science is that of the conservation of force. So economical is nature that she never lets go one atom of matter, one molecule of organized being, or one unit of power. All is changed, nothing is lost in the creation. But here is a soul, the greatest force of all, the fine result of a long series of developments; a soul capable of thought, of love, of intellectual creation. It is the soul of Newton, able to read the laws of the universe; the soul of Fenelon, reaching a height of disinterested love which makes it like the seraph near God's throne; the soul of Homer, whose song fills the world with music during twenty-five centuries. And do you tell me that, while not a particle of carbon or hydrogen can escape the omnipotent conservatism of the Almighty, he will allow such powers as these to be resolved back into nothing? With the religious man, this argument is all-sufficient. When we come to see God as father and friend, death is abolished. We know that we can trust him with our life, and the lives of those dear to us, always.
Food for Thought (No. 30, October 11, 2002) (James Freeman Clarke on the Authority of Jesus and the Bible)
I also maintain that we need to trust in the authority of Jesus. It is an immense help to have confidence in him as the way, the truth and the life. But to trust in the authority of a teacher is not knowledge; it is only the door to knowledge. You send your childe to school, and it is right that he should trust in the teacher's authority and take what is taught on authority. But, if it ends there, he has not learned anything. Until he has made his teacher's instruction a harmonious part of his own knowledge, he does not know.
Authority is a door by which we enter the vast temple of truth. It is a guide who leads us through the wilderness to the Promised Land. But there its work ends. It does not give us knowledge, -- only access to knowledge. The true authority of the Scriptures is this, that it is a book made sacred by the love and respect of many generations, -- a book which brought comfort and joy to thousands and tens and thousands of hearts, -- which has been the means of converting sinners and edifying saints. Hence we ought to approach it with trust, expectation and confidence, and read it to find what it has to teach us, -- seeking for the spirit of life and truth which is in it. But, to have this faith in the Bible as full of truth, it is not necessary to believe in its perfect accuracy in every respect, nor that it has been preserved by a miracle from all error. â€¦ The true inspiration of the Bible is not of the letter, but of the spirit.
James Freeman Clarke, "The Bible," in Essentials and Non-Essentials in Religion (1877).
Food for Thought (No. 29, October 2, 2002) (Clarke on Man's Duty to Grow)
James Freeman Clarke on "Man's Duty to Grow" from the book Self-Culture: Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Spiritual (1892).
Both Clarke and William Ellery Channing emphasize self-culture, the obligation to improve ourselves.
"God has placed us here to grow, just as he placed the trees and flowers. The trees and flowers grow unconsciously, and by no effort of their own. Man, too, grows unconsciously, and is educated by circumstances. But he can also control those circumstances, and direct the course of his life. He can educate himself; he can, by effort and thought, acquire knowledge, become accomplished, refine and purify his nature, develop his powers, strengthen his character. And because he can do this, he ought to do it.
It is curious that Christian teachers should have so often neglected to inculcate his duty of self-culture, seeing that it is so plainly taught by Jesus in the Gospels. This is the doctrine of the parable of the talents and the pounds. ...
Use and improve, or lose. This is the sentence pronounced on each of us by all the courts of God, in the physical, intellectual and moral world. Use and improve your muscles and your perceptions, or they will gradually but certainly fail. Use and improve your memory, your understanding, your judgment, or they will become feeble. Use and improve your conscience, or it grows torpid. Use and improve the powers which look up to an infinite truth, beauty and goodness, and they will lift you towards these. Let them sleep, and they cannot see this Kingdom of God, this Divine element in the universe. The fool, who has not developed his spiritual nature, says in his heart, "There is no God." Nature reaches its hand to Revelation to maintain this law, and both, with concurrent voice, cry, "Use and improve or lose."
Emphases are in original.
Food for Thought (No. 28, September 20, 2002) (Whitehead on Dogma)
Alfred North Whitehead was a prominent British mathematician (coauthoring Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell) and philosopher. His later work explored the connections between science and religion and developed a metaphysics that others developed and have come to call process theology. In his work, he affirmed God and denied the Universe was deterministic. In his later years, he was a professor at Harvard. In February, 1926 he delivered a series of four lectures at King's Chapel in Boston, a prominent Unitarian Church to this day, which were published as his book Religion in the Making. This quote is taken from those lectures:
Religions commit suicide when they find inspiration in their dogmas. The inspiration of religion lies in the history of religion. By this I mean that it is to be found in the primary expressions of the intuitions of the finest types of religious lives. The sources of religious belief are always growing, though some expressions may lie in the past. Records of these sources are not formulae. They elicit in us intuitive response which pierces beyond dogma.
But dogmatic expression is necessary. For whatever has objective validity is capable of partial expression in terms of abstract concepts, so that a coherent doctrine arises which elucidates the world beyond the locus of the origin of the dogmas in question. â€¦ But the dogmas, however true, are only bits of the truth, expressed in terms that are in some ways over assertive and in other ways lose the essence of truth â€¦ Accordingly, though dogmas have their measure of truth, which is unalterable, in their precise form they are narrow, limitative, and alterable: in effect, untrue when carried over beyond the proper scope of their utility.
Food for Thought (No. 27, July 17, 2002) (Channing on Equality)
"....there is one principle of the soul which makes all men essentially equal, which places all on a level as to means of happiness, which may place in the first rank of human beings those who are the most depressed in worldly condition, and therefore give the most depressed a title to interest and respect. I refer to the sense of duty, to the power of discerning and doing right, to the moral and religious principle, to the inward monitor which speaks in the name of God, to the capacity of virtue or excellence. This is the great gift of God. Whoever has derived from God this perception and capacity of rectitude has a bond of union with the spiritual world stronger than all the ties of nature. He possesses a principle which, if he is faithful to it, must carry him forward forever, and insures to him the improvement and happiness of the highest order of beings.
It is this moral power which makes all men essentially equal, which annihilates all the distinctions of this world."
William E. Channing From "Honor Due All Men"
Food for Thought (No. 26, July 9, 2002) (James Luther Adams on Free Faith)
James Luther Adams was a leader in the effort to resist the humanist/atheist influence in Unitarianism. He was a Unitarian minister and a professor at Meadville Theological School, at the University of Chicago and at the Harvard Divinity School.
This quote is from "A Faith for Free Men" (1946):
As creatures fated to be free, as creatures who must make responsible decision, what may we place our confidence in? What can we have faith in? What should we serve?
The first tenet of a free man's faith is that his ultimate dependence for his being and his freedom is upon a creative power and upon processes not of his own making. His ultimate faith is not in himself. He finds himself a historical being, a being living in nature and in history, a being having freedom in nature and in history.
The free man's faith is therefore a faith in the giver of being and freedom. Man's dignity derives from the fact that he participates in the being and freedom of this reality. If we use the terms of historical Christianity we may say that man is made in the image of this creative reality. Under its auspices, he becomes himself a creator â€¦
James Luther Adams "A Faith for Free Men" (1946)
Food for Thought (No. 25, July 2, 2002) (James Freeman Clarke on Knowing God)
Consequently, God's existence cannot be proved, as against one disposed to deny it. But this is no misfortune; for in this respect belief in God stands on the same basis as belief in our own existence, and in that of the outward universe. Neither of these can be proved. They are not believed on the ground of argument, but are known experimentally. I know my own existence, through consciousness, by a mental experience. I know the outward universe, through observation, by the experience of the senses. We commune with ourselves through consciousness: we commune with nature, through the senses. From this communion results our knowledge of each. We know God in the same way, just as far as we commune with him outwardly and inwardly. When we look through nature, and see, back of its changing events an unchanging Cause, under its finite phenomena an infinite Substance, and behind its manifold adaptations an intelligent design,- we come into communion with God through nature. When we look within, and, behind our wrong being and doing, find the conception of a perfect right; behind our lukewarm affections, the idea of a perfect love; and behind our sorrows and weakness, the undying hope of a perfect peace, - we commune with God inwardly. All knowledge comes from communion or intercourse; that is, action and reaction. We cannot know any thing passively. Knowledge arises from life. The knowledge of the outward world comes from sensible experience, or living contact of the senses, by action and reaction. Knowledge of ourselves comes from conscious experience, by looking in upon ourselves, and setting the soul into a living activity. And so knowledge of God does not come passively to any man; but only as he communes, by an active spiritual experience, with God; or, as the Bible says, "Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned."
Steps of Belief; or, Rational Christianity maintained against atheism, free religion, and Romanism.
Food for Thought (No. 24, June 28, 2002) (James Freeman Clarke on the Holy Spirit)
§ 34. Unitarians do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate person in the Godhead, but to be the influence of God's spirit on the human soul, to give strength, peace, light, love. It is said to be poured out, shed abroad, given, etc.; which expressions apply to an influence, but not to a person.
§ 35. Unitarians believe this influence to be given by a constant operation, wherever the human heart is prepared and ready to receive it. Therefore Christians are told to "live in the Spirit," to "walk in the Spirit," and the Spirit is said to "dwell in them." It is given not only to Prophets and Apostles, to saints and martyrs, but to all who desire help to lead better lives.
§ 36. The difference between the influence of the Spirit of God and other influences which come from him is this, that whereas the others come to us from without, through nature, events, and our fellow-men, the influence of the Spirit is God speaking to us within the soul. We commune with God outwardly through his works and through the events of our earthly life. We commune with him inwardly when we are by ourselves, and when in the secret chamber of our hearts we lift up our thoughts and wishes, our sorrows and sins, to our Heavenly Father.
James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888), Manual of Unitarian Belief (1884)
Food for Thought (No. 23, June 27, 2002) (Channing on Reason and Revelation)
Perhaps I shall be told that reason is not to be denied universally, but only in cases where its teachings are contradicted by revelation. To this I reply that a contradiction between reason and a genuine revelation cannot exist. A doctrine claiming a divine origin would refute itself, by opposing any of the truths which reason intuitively discerns, or which it gathers from nature. God is the "Father of the lights" and the "Author of concord," and He cannot darken and distract the human mind by jarring and irreconcilable instructions. He cannot subvert the authority of the very faculty through which we arrive at the knowledge of himself. A revelation from the Author of our rational nature will certainly be adapted to its fundamental laws.
William Ellery Channing, from "Self-Denial"
Food for Thought (No. 22, June 20, 2002) (Hedge on Science and Theology)
Let there be no strife between theology and science: there need be none. The gospel of Christ and the gospel of science have essentially one mission. The methods differ; the end is the same. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will toward men," was the mission divinely proclaimed for the one: to minister to "the glory of God and the relief of man's estate," was the calling which England's great Chancellor, its own high prophet, prescribed for the other.
Frederic Henry Hedge, "The Cause of Reason The Cause of Faith" in Reason in Religion (1865), pp. 214-215.
Food for Thought (No. 21, June 5, 2002) (James Freeman Clarke on Mankind)
Unitarian Belief Concerning Man
§ 37. Unitarians commonly believe that in all men there are religious capacities, by which they may come into communion with God. These are reason, conscience, freedom, love of truth, of beauty, of goodness, the sense of the infinite, the capability of disinterested love; and the kindred sentiments of veneration, awe, aspiration, etc. ***
§ 38. Unitarians reject the Calvinistic doctrines of original sin and total depravity, the responsibility of the human race for Adam's fall, and the belief that, until converted, man is under the wrath of God.
James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888), Manual of Unitarian Belief (1884)
Food for Thought (No. 20, March 21, 2002) (Frederic Henry
Hedge on Mysticism)
Food for Thought (No. 19, March 19, 2002) (Frederic Henry
Hedge on Ritual)
Food for Thought (No. 18, March 3, 2002) (Alfred Hall on
Food for Thought (No. 17, February 27, 2002) (James Freeman
Clarke on The Bible)
No. 16 (Clarke on Creeds)
"A creed (from the Latin "credo," I believe) is simply a belief. In this sense creeds are good, useful, and desirable for individuals. If two or three who hold the same belief unite to convince others of its truth, this also is natural and right. If they state their creed in propositions and articles, this also may be useful. To such creeds Unitarians do not object. Many of their churches have adopted such statements of opinion.... But Unitarians object to religious creeds under the following circumstances: 1. When they are made a test of character; 2. When they are made a condition of fellowship; 3. When they become an obstacle to progress. Most of the creeds of the Christian Church have been liable to these objections. They have been made a test of Christian character, contrary to the distinct statement of Jesus that obedience, not belief, or profession, is the true test of character (Matt.7:15-27), and that true religion consists in love to God and man (Mark 12:28-34). They have been made a condition of Christian fellow ship, contrary to the declaration of Jesus that whosoever shall do the will of God is like a mother and sister and brother to him (Mark 3:35). They have been an obstacle to progress, imposing the opinions of past centuries upon present belief. Though Unitarians reject such creeds as these, their religious convictions are not the less distinct and earnest."
James Freeman Clarke, Manual of Unitarian Belief (1884).
No. 15 (Channing on Self Culture)
"I come now to another important measure of self-culture, and
this is, intercourse with superior minds. I have insisted on our own
activity as essential to our progress; but we were not made to live or
advance alone. Society is as needful to us as air or food.
From "Self-Culture," William Ellery Channing, 1838
No. 14 (Hall on God in Man)
"Unitarians believe that God speaks to man through conscience.
It may be true that many men are swayed by pleasure, but conscience
never ceases to speak to man as an authority higher than himself. Even
the worst mean are sometimes aware of conflicts within themselves, as
it were between two persons, one of whom commands and the other is
commanded. These two beings are the self and the greater-than-self -
the soul and God.
Alfred Hall, "God in Man" from The Beliefs of a Unitarian (London: 1932)
No. 13 (Dewey on the Importance of Religion)
"The interests of experimental, vital, practical religion are the great interests of our being. No language can be too strong,. no language can be strong enough, to give them due expression. No anxiety is too deep, no care too heedful, no effort too earnest, no prayer too importunate, to be bestowed upon this almost infinite concern of the soul's purification, piety, virtue and welfare. No labour of life should be undertaken, no journey pursued, no business transacted, no pleasure enjoyed, no activity employed, no rest indulged in, without ultimate reference to that great end of our being. Without it, life has no sufficient object, and death has no hope, and eternity no promise."
Orville Dewey (1873)
No. 12 (Allen on the Aim of Unitarianism)
No. 11 (Channing on the True End of Life)
William E. Channing, "The True End of
Life in The Perfect Life"
No. 10 (Channing on War)
William E. Channing, from "On War", January 25, 1835
No. 9 (Channing on the Duties of the Citizen in Times of Trial or Danger)
William E. Channing, "On the Occasion of the U.S. Declaration
of War Against Great Britain"
No. 8 (Channing on Crime and Guilt)
No. 7 (Hall on Miracles)
No. 6 (Gannett and Sunderland on "Things Commonly
Believed Among Us")
No. 5 (Hall on Revelation)
No. 4 (Channing on Creeds)
No. 3 (Parker on Immortality)
No. 2 (Eliot on Prayer)
Frederick M. Eliot was President of the AUA from 1937 to 1958. The
following is from Frederick M. Eliot, 1926, in the "The Unitarian
Conception of Prayer," in Fundamentals of Unitarian Faith:
Five Sermons Preached in Unity Church, Saint Paul, October, 1926
(Unity Church, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1926), p. 62.
No. 1 (Channing on God and Free Will)
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