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I do not think so. I believe we may be all united, notwithstanding our differences, in one brotherhood of respect, of Christian affection, of mutual help, and help to every good word and work.
Nay, for myself, and so far as the Church is concerned, the Church, i.e., as a body of persons united simply for worship and fellowship, I should be willing still more to broaden the ground. If there were a Church, gathered from all sects,
each member consenting to sink his peculiarities out of sight for the sake of a common worship, of a devout and humble approach to the Infinite Father, - much as I like my own communion, I should be inclined to join that Church Universal. If, in a population of two or three thousand people, there were, as is usual with us in this country, four or five Churches, when but one or two could be well supported; if there were a Baptist and Methodist and Episcopal and Universalist and Unitarian Church in such a township, all struggling to live, and their ministers finding, for their part, that they could not live, were leaving their posts every two or three years, till, in the rural districts, the profession had become almost nomadic; in such circumstances I would rather take the Sears Liturgy, which, be it observed, does not recognize the modern doctrine of the Trinity, and so worship with my fellow-Christians in one Church, built for all.
It is true, that a Church in this view is a different thing from an association, whose object it is to send out books, tracts, and preachers, to build up the cause of religion. As there is some diversity of views among us, not with regard to vital religion, but with regard to its philosophy and its records, the question is, whether this diversity can be either ignored, or suffered freely to express itself in the books, tracts, and preachers that are sent forth. If we think it cannot, then we cannot unite in this work. If we think it can, then we can unite. The late Convention in New York must have thought so, else it could not have proceeded at all in the work it has undertaken; else it would not have accepted large contributions from Churches marked by every shade of difference. For my
own part, I am satisfied in this respect with the catholic ground on which it placed itself. My only doubt would be, whether it was catholic enough in another respect. That is to say, I was glad that the members of the Convention, notwithstanding their differences in opinion, could agree to work together; but then it is obvious, as a matter of justice and fairness to one another, that the platform which they laid down should be one on which they all could satisfactorily stand. For the one party to say, because it was strong, "We will have this plank, whether you like it or not," did not seem to be fair dealing; and although the other party agreed to accept it, rather than break the platform in pieces, it did not seem to be right that they should be pushed so hard.
To be sure, it appeared to me surprising, that they should think the concession, on their part, so great a one. To their own reverential feeling towards the common Master and his teaching, I cannot believe that the phrases, "The Lord Jesus Christ," and "Building up of his kingdom," taken in their simple sense, free from others' constructions, could be any serious offence. And what if others did accept those words in a superstitious sense, or they thought so: they did not. On the other hand, the simple name, Jesus Christ, Master and Lord as he is in the realm of our spiritual life, embosoms and embodies a sanctity and venerableness to which no prefix could add any thing; and I should have been content to let it stand in its simple grandeur.
As to the difference between what are called the conservative and radical portions of our body, if any one thinks it essential, vital to Christianity, - he should not belong to the American Unitarian Conference; he should not consent, being of the one party or the other, to receive help, aid, money, from those whom he deems alien to the essential faith of the Gospel. If I saw Christian men on the one side in this question, and unchristian men on the other, I could not consent to any union between them, in such a work as the spread of truth and religion. But I must confess, on the contrary, that I see as good men, men as full of the spirit of Christianity, on one side as the other.
VOL. LXXIX.-5TH S. VOL. XVII. NO. II.
I know that I am speaking on a subject on which there is much conservative anxiety in many minds among us. The rush of the conservative vote in the late Convention was proof of it. There is a fear among us that every thing in our religious body is running out into individuality, into dispersion, into nothing; and that the same fatal tendency is showing itself in all religious bodies. I cannot sympathize with this fear. I believe that this running-out, as they call it, i.e., this free and varied movement, is the natural tendency of thought, and that it will vindicate itself as right and good. If men think, they must think diversely: thought will struggle with thought, and the result will be something better than universal acquiescence.
And it will be stronger too, in its power to spread and prevail. Truth unchained, not bound fast in a creed; truth marching over the earth, not entrenched in a Church camp; truth in dispersion, not in concentration, this is our election. There is a force in cohesion; but there is a greater in diffusion. The sun, by its attractive force, draws and holds the planets in their courses. But, according to the recent doctrine of the Correlation of forces, or Conservation of force, the heat that streams from the sun becomes, when it strikes the surrounding orbs, a form of power: it is positive, mechanic force, manifest in all the constructions of vegetable and animal life ; it builds the trees, the groves, the forests; it covers all the worlds with verdure and flowers. The sun does not go out into nothing by diffusion; but it goes out into every thing that we call life and power.
But to return to the point which I am considering in this discourse: From there being these two necessary, but not necessarily irreconcilable nor mutually destructive opposites, in all thought, I have contended for catholicity, for toleration, in religion. I wish now to carry the plea into a wider application; that is to say, from our religious to our political and social differences. The application is practical: it concerns our duties. I am not going beyond the proper province of the pulpit; and I think that the pulpit, that the preacher, is especially bound to take account of it. It deeply concerns us all
as citizens of this country, and it concerns us as citizens of the great modern Commonwealth of civilized nations. For all the tendencies of human thought are now rushing, as never before, to this issue between Radicalism and Conservatism; between the interests of the many and of the few; between peoples and aristocracies; between slaves and masters; between the low and the high, in all communities; between humanity, and every power that denies its claims. And the question is, Are we to debate these matters with calmness, candor, and patience, or with selfish hate and factious violence? Are we to debate them with reason and temperate speech, or are we to debate them with war and bloodshed?
When this dreadful war began, now just ended, firmly be lieving that it could come to but one issue, I felt that when it should be ended; when this nation should set out on a new career; when it should have established, among the nations, its claim to stand up for the rights of the many against all birthright prerogatives of the few, then there would be a call upon all thoughtful and patriotic moralists, philosophers, and preachers among us, to speak such words of wisdom and warning, such words about obedience and law and suffrage and government, as they had never spoken before. And now I believe that the time has come for them to speak.
When all government is in the hands of hereditary rulers, or emanates from them, the people are not to blame for the wrongs or abuses of which it is guilty. But we have taken into our own charge that awful depository of power. We are directly, personally, every one of us, responsible for the exercise of it. And if we continue to be, as we have been, insensible to the magnitude of this trust; if we proudly claim to be free citizen electors, without thoughtfully and conscientiously fulfilling the duties of electors; if we vote factiously, or will not vote at all, because the poll is a disagreeable place to go to; if beneath the majestic frame of a free, representative government, the only thought of our citizens is to play out their little game of private ambition, of money-getting and pleasure-seeking, only freer than other peoples to be more
selfish and self-willed; if the arena dedicated to sacred freedom is given over to violent and unscrupulous party contests; if demagogues are to be our great men, and the wise and thoughtful are to shrink back, or to be pushed back by the crowd, then official dignity and morality will continue to run down as they have done; our general government will become, what some of our city governments already are, you know what that is; and the time may come when majorities will be more oppressive than despots, and we shall be ready to flee from the many-headed monster, as did the Roman republic, to the one-man power.
There is always danger of losing the sense of personal responsibility, in our connection with great organizations. As corporations are said to have no souls, so those who deal with them often act as if they had no souls. The failure of honesty or principle, or of any positive duty towards a neighbor, is quite otherwise reckoned with, when it relates to a bank or to a railroad corporation; still more to a government or to a nation. His debt, an honest man will pay strictly and in full; his tax, perhaps, he will withhold or lessen, or get rid of as much as he can. This way of thinking is the ruin of political morality; and, if unchecked, will be the ruin of the Republic.
For ruin is still possible, though we stand so strong now. Bravely and well we have vindicated the national sovereignty now we have to take up again the great problem, not yet solved, whether a free people will govern themselves wisely and well; whether we have, or are to have, enough intelligence and virtue for this stupendous achievement, far the grandest, I believe, ever seen on earth. All the men in this country, honestly and heartily working to that end, cannot do more than achieve it. We have fought the battle with armed hosts, and have gained the victory. We are now to fight a longer, harder, and more perilous battle, with ourselves; with our selfishness, greed, and private ambition; with ignorance, with national vanity, with arrogant boasting; with vice and moral sloth and enervating luxury; with the lawlessness of men, and the madness of parties; with all the evils