« PreviousContinue »
SECESSIONS FROM UNITARIANISM. It is but natural to expect that charitable institutions should, whenever they have the ability, render aid to the societies by which they are supported. Their relation to their benefactors may not inaptly be compared to the relation between parent and child. It is a relation of dependence and obligation, and therefore involves the duty of reciprocating, as far as possible, benefits received. A Sunday school, for instance, instituted and maintained by a Christian congregation, may with reason be expected to bring an increase of numbers, if not pecuniary aid, in proportion to its size and the approach of its members to years of maturity. I do not mean to imply that Sunday schools are founded with a view to the increase of congregations, nor that those who support them require acquiescence in their opinions, as a condition of receiving the education afforded; but merely that it is not unreasonable to expect that the prevalence of the kindly feelings which may be presumed to exist between the benefactor and the benefitted, together with the influence of associations and acquaintances formed within walls consecrated to love and good works, should indirectly serve to create, in many instances, a permanent attachment to the place where, and the society by whom, the blessings were received. And that such, in some cases, is the result-the proper, the happy result-I am glad to know. But, except my information-nay, my own experience-deceives me, the instances in Unitarian congregations are very far from being in proportion to the numbers educated.
If the attachments formed in a Sunday school might be supposed to incline the heart towards its supporters, much more attaching would one expect to find the filial affections. not the person to think that children should blindly follow the opinions of their parents. Truth is not, like wealth, transmissible. It is to be discovered—not adopted. If taken on trust, it ceases to be truth. Whatever it may be in itself, relatively to the individual, it is not truth. Another man's truth cannot be mine by deed of gift, by transmission, by adoption. Truth is essentially an individual possession. What I learn, what I know—that is truth to me, and by that I must stand or fall. Yet the varied and powerful influences of domestic life produce no few resemblances between parent and child, and not seldom lead the inmates of a family to an agreement in opinion. not now concerned to inquire how far this may be right. It is enough to have noticed the fact—though I cannot omit adding that the fact, and the causes of it, are of divine origination, being the natural result of certain necessary circumstances.
Although, therefore, in particular cases, the influence may be exceptionable, its general character must be good, since it is produced by arrangements which originate in the wisdom of God.
It is, however, less unfrequent than could be desired for the children of Unitarian Christians to quit the communion of their fathers, and associate themselves with forms of Christianity with which it is difficult to see how they can have any decided and peculiar sympathy.
I wish it to be distinctly understood, that wherever the secession took place as a consequence of conviction, I should look on the change with no other feelings than those of satisfaction. I will not, indeed, deny that I find it difficult to understand how any one who has thoroughly imbibed the principles of Unitarianism can exchange them, on conviction, for any of the popular forms of orthodoxy. However this may be, I cannot think but with complacency of religious integrity, to whatever results it may lead." The exhibition of principle always commands esteem, and in a world but too much disposed to indulge in carelessness and laxity in religious concerns, the example of a young mind seriously in earnest with religious interetss—thirsting after religious truth, and prompt to avow its religious convictions—is fitted to be as beneficial to others as it is noble in itself. I honour such a mind. It acts consistently with its rational nature and with its responsibilities.
But even when the impulse to secession is derived from the very purity of the love of truth, I will not disguise to myself that I had rather such rare integrity had manifested itself in favour of pure and undefiled religion. How much reason for regret then is there in those cases where one has reason to fear that impure motives may have been the parents of impure doctrine, or prompted a profession which amounted in reality to little more than an act of religious simulation. And constrained I am to declare, that charity must supersede justice, and thereby become the patron of untruth, ere it is possible to believe but some secessions have been no little influenced by a love of the world in some of its multiform shapes. What a degradation is it to change a religious communion at the promptings of passion! How can a connexion begun in apostacy, end in virtuous love? What a degradation to join the crowd of the votaries of fashion at the expence of loss of character-loss of self-respect; to bend the supremacy of conscience before the idol shrine; to bow in the house of Rimmon as if in worship of the true God! True, the chains may be gilded ;yet they are chains—they weigh down, they rankle, they brand, even were they pure gold. It is no extenuation to plead that it is only an external conformity. What is conformity to error,
in conjunction with the possession of truth, but hypocrisy? It is believing one thing, and acting another. It is thinking with truth, and giving countenance to error. A Unitarian cannot worship habitually in a Trinitarian church, without compromising his character and his obligations. In so doing he avows in appearance what he denies in reality; he supports what he disbelieves, and what he believes he discountenances.
For this tendency to moral degradation there must be some cause. In the individual who suffers it there is obviously a laxity of religious principle. He may have some positive convictions, but these are held so loosely as to have little influence on the conduct. The religious sense is inert. Religious truths are but words, or, at the best, vague, distant, impalpable realities. The religious affections are poor and dwarfish for want of a generous culture. Heaven has never quickened them with its sun.
The earth has never nourished them with its aliment. They were never fanned by the breezes of God's spirit
, nor cherished with the dew of man's sympathies. But flesh and blood, which cannot enter into the kingdom of God, have put their promptings and yearnings into the heart, and made what ought to have been a child of God into a servant of the mammon of unrighteousness. There is, in consequence, a conformity to the world rather than a transformation into the moral likeness of Christ. Men follow those whose servants they are, and servitude to the meaner passions is no less exacting than it is degrading.
It may at first sight appear difficult to discover the way in which this laxity can have sprung up in families whose heads have themselves believed on conviction, and avowed their convictions in the face of the world, if not of peril. Whether it can be accounted for or not, it admits of no doubt, that children of sincere Unitarians have acted as if they held religious opinions of small account. I am not sure, however, but this may arise from a fault which has the appearance of leaning to virtue's side. The parent is conscientious in his belief in the characteristic doctrines of Unitarian Christianity, both in the rejection of the Trinity, the atonement, original sin, and imputed righteousness, and in the reception of the strict unity and essential goodness of the Father of the Universe and the Father of Jesus. But he is most desirous of exerting no bias on the mind of his child. He wishes to leave it free to judge for itself on reaching maturity. Besides, he is persuaded that the essence of religion consists, not in any abstract doctrines, so much as in a conformity with the image of Christ. sequence he abstains from even the mention of his peculiar opinions. To his children they are as if they were not. True he worships in a place whose minister is understood to hold
Unitarian opinions, and who may, by some rare chance, enter on the exposition and defence of his views; but the very rarity of the circumstance—to say nothing of the apologetic tone in which the advocacy is couched, and the dead silence of the parent, if not even his reproof of the minister for his rashness or his dogmatism—these things, combined with a copious and oft expressed dislike of sectarianism, as if the vindication of truth must necessarily embitter the heart—this silence in relation to the parent's positive convictions——this tacit or expressed disapprobation of the minister's zeal—this avowed hatred of something which in reality means hatred of the agitations which necessarily precede the prevalence, if not the discovery of truth—this attachment to a quiescence which at least borders on treachery to God, Christ, and conscience—combine to invest a youth's mind with a disregard to any positive forms of religious belief, and hence, by an easy consequence, with a feeling of unconcern towards religion itself
. A general laxity of the religious principle ensues from the absence on the part of the parent of a manifestation of attachment to the opinions he sincerely entertains. Dislike of sectarianisın issues in dislike of religion. The negation of silence in the parent has its natural consequences in the positive irreligion of the son’s heart.
All this evil arises from the neglect of what is a very common practice in the concerns of ordinary life. What we strongly feel we express strongly. We cannot, without doing violence to ourselves, be silent on great questions of social or domestic interest. Ordinarily we are not silent. There is no attempt to prevent the tongue being the honest chronicler of the heart. Why should religion be the exception ? Are religious interests less important or more uncertain than political? If to avoid giving a bias in the one we observe silence, why not observe a universal silence ? To be consistent, we should quench every vocal sound. A bias may be in each. But if absurdity itself would not call for the entire extinction of the domestic influences, then let conversation lose every shackle but such as virtue and truth impose. Give free, give unchecked vent to the workings of the mind, in the assurance that it is darkness, not light-quiescence, not activity, that are prejudicial to man.
One form which religious laxity assumes is, that the peculiar views of Unitarians are matters of small moment. Now I will declare at once, that beyond doubt they must suffer in comparison with the weightier matters of the law. Opinion of every kind, when tried in the balance with character, will be found wanting. The means can never bear competition with the end, and yet the means may be invaluable. Education itself, when set in comparison with intelligence and power, is as nothing.
Is education, therefore, to be slighted ? Knowledge is good mainly because it is power. Opinion is but knowledge in the making. Proscribe knowledge, you lose power. Decry opinion, you proscribe knowledge. And though I do not deny that the value of the means is chiefly derivative, yet opinion—though it be but the fragments of truth—is, in its nature, inestimable. When we have not the perfect day of light, even the twilight is beloved for itself, as well as for the splendours on towards which it leads the way;
But I meet the allegation with a direct negative. The distinguishing doctrines of Unitarianism are not in themselves of small account. They involve principles of a nobler life than can be found elsewhere. Held in unrighteousness, they, as all truth, may be compelled even into the service of sin. But in themselves they have an efficacy to expand the mind, to enlarge the heart, to enrich the affections, to deepen piety. It is Jesus himself who said—« This is eternal life, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus whom thou hast sent to be the Christ;' thus stamping the characteristic teachings of Unitarianism with the seal of his approbation, and ascribing to them a power to save the soul. And, in the nature of the case, can it be a matter of small moment to worship as God two beings that are not God -to represent a son to be as old as his father—to honour the Son so greatly as almost to neglect the Father—to erect a creature into the Creator, and force the honours of Deity on one whose chosen title was “the Son of Man; to confound our ideas by professing to unite in the same being the finite and the infinite-omniscience and ignorance, omnipotence and suffering; to represent the goodness and the justice of God as conflicting attributes, reconcileable only by the infinite sacrifice of a finite being; to teach that man was lost and is saved by proxy; is relieved from a debt by the payment of another, and yet has to pay at least a part of it himself:—to recommend a redemption which is universal in name, but fearfully partial in efficacy; to set forth God as receiving atonement for the sins of the whole world, yet unable or unwilling to save more than the pettiest minority;—to invite men to come to Jesus, withhold the only means by which they can come, and then condemn them for not coming? It is not of small moment to relieve Christianity from this destructive load, and to emancipate the mind from notions which tend to bewilder and alarm. Nor is it of small moment to have a creed as simple as it is scriptural-one God and Father of all-our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of all; a creed which restores harmony between the religion of nature and the religion of the Bible-which makes all human kind of one kin, with the one God for their equal Father, and the one Christ for their common Master and all-sufficient Saviour