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with what effect, when views and aims are mutually and diametrically opposed ? Whether such a definition as we have supposed is practicable, and whether, with the crude indocilities and stiff antagonisms which assume that name, an efficient organization of “Liberal Christians” is practicable, is a question we shall not attempt to discuss. We merely indicate the conditions under which alone, in our judgment, corporate existence and co-action are possible.
Dr. Furness appeals, in confirmation of his suspicion, to the action of the graduates of the Cambridge Divinity School, at a recent meeting, in refusing to entertain a resolution of sympathy for Mr. Theodore Parker; which action he strongly condemns. We think he misinterprets the bearing of that case, and we differ from him in our.judgment concerning it. The association of Alumni of the Cambridge Divinity School is an association of Christian ministers. Those who, having passed through the School, have not entered or have not remained in that ministry, are not usually considered, and do not consider themselves, as members of that fraternity. Mr. Parker, if we understand him, does not profess to be a Christian minister, but expressly and formally disclaims that position. We say this not in the way of reproach, but of definition.* He may be something better, - he certainly is a more efficient agent, in his way, than most Christian ministers, but that precise character he does not bear nor profess to bear. Now, Christianity is certainly not the only tie between man and man.
One may take a position outside of Christianity without necessarily forfeiting his claim to our good-will or his title to our respect. There is a point of view from which even Christianity, large as it is, must be regarded as a partiality. But this is not the point of view which an association of Christian ministers, acting as such, in their corporate capacity, are supposed to base their action upon. The question is not, as Dr. Furness intimates, a question of theological differences, as between theologians, but a question of fitness as to time and place. He overlooks a distinction which seems to us quite obvious. What individuals composing that fraternity might do and should do, acting as individuals, or acting as citizens, or as scholars, or as theologians even, is one thing; what they should do as a body of Christian ministers gathered for a specific purpose, is a very different thing. We may imagine meetings in which such a resolution would be perfectly in place, and where those who refused to entertain it on this occasion, we venture to say, would vote for it gladly; a meeting, for example, of some literary fraternity, or a meeting of the citizens of Boston, or a meeting even of the clergy of Boston, where the ministers would be understood to meet, not in their denominational, but functional capacity, and where Jewish as well as Christian preachers might be present. But if, on the other hand, the resolution were offered at a meeting of the Suffolk Bar, it would surely be deemed out of place, and no discourtesy toward its object would be implied in refusing to entertain it. Or if it were offered at a meeting of Baptist or Methodist ministers by some eccentric individual intruding himself into that body, we should not expect to see it adopted, or even entertained. Why, then, at a meeting of Unitarians ? Because Unitarians profess no creed? But they do profess to be Christians.
* Nothing can be further from our intent than — now especially in his absence and illness to speak otherwise than kindly of one whom we cherish as a friend and honor as a man; but we understand Mr. Parker as decidedly rejecting the authority of Christ when defining his ground in the sermon preached to his congregation, Nov. 14, 1852, (see Parker's Additional Speeches, Vol. II. p. 312,) consequently as disclaiming the position of a Christian minister.
But if it be claimed that Mr. Parker, as a graduate of the Cambridge Divinity School, is strictly a member of the association in question, we still maintain that the resolution, even in that view, was out of place. The association had never, in one instance before, entertained a resolution of the kind, although cases as urgent as that of Mr. Parker, supposing him to be one of the fraternity, were always before them at their annual meetings; not, we suppose, from want of sympathy with brethren who were suffering, but because the meeting has other objects, and but little time for its proper work, and because, moreover, the sympathy in such cases is to be presumed without a formal resolution to that effect. The formality means nothing, if impartially administered ; if partial, it means too much. Such being the case, a resolution of sym
pathy for Mr. Parker would have seemed to express an exceptional regard for that gentleman, and thus have misrepresented the fraternity, falsifying all its past. Other names might, as Dr. Furness suggests, to avoid singularity, have been coupled with Mr. Parker's in this resolution. But the aim of the mover, which was, as we suppose, to signalize the individual, would appear in spite of the amendment, the shift of which would have been transparent. Nor would such an amendment have covered the past. An association, it is true, and especially one of liberal Christians, should not be tied to foregone uses; but equally true is it, that such an association, in establishing a precedent, should have due regard to the fitness and claims, considered in relation to their own antecedents and objects, of the case selected for the new example. We believe the feeling entertained for Mr. Parker by the great majority of the liberal clergy of this country is one not only of perfect tolerance, but of pure good-will, unmixed with any root of bitterness. In the phrase of Paul, he is not “ straitened” in them, however straitened in his own affections. But their views are different, their methods are different, their ground distinct. Neither party wishes to be confounded with the other.
Dr. Furness concludes with a glowing confession of “faith in the advent of the true Church ; that Church which, turning away from the dry and mouldering symbols of the past, making no effort to galvanize creeds and sacraments, shall draw its life from the fresh springs of the human soul ; that Church whose ceremonial shall be the acts and labors and sacrifices of earnest and living men, relinquishing property, popularity, and life itself, when the need is, for freedom and for humanity; that Church whose High Mass is a cup of cold water given to the panting fugitive at the risk of fine and imprisonment, and whose hymns and prayers and liturgies are the daily offices of human love faithfully discharged. Spiritual worship is the worship of life. The hand that is extended to do whatsoever of duty it finds to be done, that hand is the true religious symbol of faith and prayer. In the true living, invisible Church, every man of every religious name and of no religious name who by working righteousness manifests the love of God in his heart, is an accepted worshipper in full communion with the saints on earth and in heaven. The visible temple of the spiritual Church is this holy and beautiful fabric of universal nature, with its blue unpillared dome over our heads, decorated all round with the tokens of infinite love, and resounding forever with the harmonies of a consummate and unbroken order."
If spirits like that which these sentences express, and which the life of the writer so nobly illustrates, should ever so far prevail as to shape the politics of any state, the “true Church” of Dr. Furness's vision would no longer be a dream of pure minds and loving hearts, but a present reality and a Church triumphant. Meanwhile this visible earthly Church with all its imperfections — the ministrant Church with its symbols and its sacraments, the militant Church with its failings and its feuds — must be the schoolmaster” to bring us thither. By this agency alone can the vision be realized. Nay, the vision itself is the product of this Church. It is the iris which blossoms at the point of incidence where the eternal sun-grace kisses the ever-breathing, ever-ascending aspirations of Christ's people. The seers and the prophets who divine most clearly the City of God, and plead most prevailingly the cause of mankind, are but what the Church has trained them to be, and prophesy but what she has taught them to see. Their highest inspiration has been caught from her lore, — they have sat at her feet and been nursed at her breast. There is not a word in their mouth but she knows it altogether. Dr. Furness would not be standing where he does, and uttering these fine sayings about the Church that is to be, had he not been so educated by the Church that is.
We will trust this visible Church so long as it produces such spirits and such lives, and such discourses too, though their posture seem averse and their look askance. And we will trust that this Church which reformers chide- and which is not the petrifaction their impatience deems it, but a pulsing organism, solid and yet moving, a fabric, yet a march, with “lively stones” and a lubricating Word - will get overtake the foremost van of reform, and reclaim her dissentient children, and engage their zeal in a common cause, as the Church of the twelfth century, when seemingly ready to burst with dissent, by wise accommodation retained and subsidized the wildest radicalisms of that prurient time. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there alone is true liberty; and the spirit of the Lord is once and forever pledged to his Church, and can never more be divorced therefrom. In vain would reformers reform by seceding. The branch that would bear fruit must abide in the Vine. Otherwise it “is cast forth as a branch, and is withered." Whatever tends to perfect the Church — even this visible Church - in its uses and ministrations, contributes so far to reform the world.
ART. VII. – REVIEW OF CURRENT LITERATURE.
We are comforted, as critics, in the lack of works of larger pretension, by the very striking symptom of a diffused activity of mind in the mphlets and discourses which embody so much of the best religious thinking of the day. The remarkable Address of Dr. Bellows, which we have already noticed, along with a good deal of ignorant and absurd comment, has called forth also a response, very loud and deep, from minds that have been moved by the questions it discusses, and either heartily åccept or as strongly dissent from its suggestions. It is not hard to understand, on the one hand, the strong, manly protest of reason and common sense against the crudities of a popular theology and the errors of a shallow revival, such as we find in the discourses of Gerrit Smith,* a name honorably identified with so much that is noble in philanthropy, independent in politics, downright practical and sincere in matters pertaining to religious faith. On the other hand, there is a mood of mind less often analyzed, not so well understood or done justice to in the current criticism of liberal religionists, which it is equally important to know, if one would sound the deeper needs of our religious public, or apprehend at once the wants and the future of Protestant Christianity. Especially the question so often raised, and so variously discussed, respecting the prestige, power, need, and organization of the Church, — the “ Church question,” in the phase it has assumed with so many prominent and rarelygifted minds, — it may aid us somewhat to apprehend if we give a
* Three Discourses on the Religion of Reason. By Gerrit Smith. New York: Ross and Toucey.