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in the pulpit. They commonly repudiate clerical dress and manners; mix freely in ordinary society, and value themselves as men and citizens quite as much as in being ministers. On the other hand, laymen are taking up what were long supposed to be ministerial functions. Extensive organizations exist known as Young Men's Christian Associations, whose objects are religious, though practical and not theological, in which clerical influence is not only subordinate, but usually somewhat carefully disowned, and through which the common-sense theology born of American experience is rapidly creeping into the Orthodox churches. It is true these Young Men's Christian Associations make occasional stands against avowed forms of Liberal Christianity; and their delegates in council at Portland, Me., have just now, under clerical inspiration, proclaimed a platform studiously and offensively exclusive of Unitarian fellowship upon equal terms. But the very necessity of such a declaration clearly enough shows the irresistible tendency to a practical union in faith and work of so-called Orthodox and so-called Liberal Christians. And if young Orthodox laymen may repudiate, they may also another year acknowledge and even encourage, fellowship with Unitarians. There can be no doubt that the action at Portland was highly favorable to the prospects of Liberal Christianity. Every thing that emphasizes lay influence is so; for lay influence in the Church in America is directly or indirectly liberal influence against Orthodoxy, and in favor of an uncreeded Christianity. The present struggle of the Methodists for lay representation in their church counsels, which is sure to succeed, is the inevitable liberalizing of their ecclesiastical methods and creeds; while the effort of the Episcopalians to procure a revision of their prayer-book points in the same direction.
I have thus far endeavored to explain the influence of the war, and of American life in earnest times, upon the ameliorization of theological opinion, and the prevalence of a mild and charitable, a rational and liberal faith, under Orthodox names and organizations. And you will think, perhaps, that this simply indicates a continued diminution of the necessity for any formal organization of Liberal Christianity as such, and a probable supplanting of the ecclesiastical function of the Unitarian Church. If the old established sects modify their creeds and discipline to meet public sentiment, what chances have new ones, or what necessity? None, it might have been said, ten years ago. And yet, although the tendencies of Orthodoxy are growing more liberal all the while, Liberal Christianity as such, as a
church and an organization, has taken a fresh start, and is becoming an earnest, a missionary, and a progressive body. And the reason is this. The era of indifference to opinions is slowly passing away. Erroneous and irrational statements of Christian faith are borne with for a long time, when free and rational interpretations of them are admitted. So much comfort and relief is found in this liberty of interpretation, and the cessation of clerical tyranny and ecclesiastical discipline, that nobody cares for a long time for the severity of the symbols themselves; and they stand unrepealed, and even reverenced as relics. But the time comes, when the inconsistency between creeds and the real views of those who profess them becomes offensive to candor, courage, and the sense of fitness and truth; when the value of old associations diminishes, and the importance of fresh and clear statements begins to reappear; when a large class of persons have not only got clear of their old dogmatic faith, but begin to realize a repugnance to it, and to enjoy and demand a distinct repudiation of it, and a new beginning on wholly distinct and plain grounds and statements. It is not the old and born Unitarians who are best able to realize this want, nor is the old ground of Unitarianism the best field to illustrate it in. We begin to find our best missionaries in the Unitarian body to be men who come over to us from Orthodox churches, ministers converted to our faith, and with a sense we who were born in the faith do not possess, of the extreme value of a definite and even aggressive liberal creed. And we are discovering, in the newer and fresher parts of the country, the more characteristic America, a welcome for a definite liberalism, which shows us that, with one or two generations, the influence of the old creeds dies out upon our new soil, and all attaching associations decline. Not only is the soil left free for a new plant, but the American sense of the value of institutions comes in to demand that a free and rational spirit of faith shall take on a positive and instituted form, and that Christian churches shall exist, which, in an open and definite way, organize the large liberal ideas and hopes and belief of the people. This tendency, though not fully developed, is now clearly indicated.
The Christian instincts and spiritual affections and aspirations of the American people, in the more enlightened and liberal communities, have not yet become fully accustomed to the new soil and new climate and new culture into which they have been transplanted. Long accustomed to an artificial shelter, trained upon the trellises of fixed dogmas, and tended by official authority, it is easy to see how
VOL. LXXXVII. — NEW SERIES, VOL. VIII. NO. II.
long it has taken them to strike root in the exposures of the open of religious liberty, without the support of established creeds and the guiding hand of an authoritative priesthood. But the native vigor of the plant of faith is beginning to triumph over its disadvantages. Deprived of its artificial supports, religious faith is beginning to feel and assert its natural strength. The Christianity in the blood and souls of the people, and which many had come to think had its sole existence in certain now discarded opinions and traditions, is proving its independent spiritual life by putting forth fresh shoots from the root which criticism and free thought had cut down to the stump. Natural religion, as it grows, discovers itself in a clearer and nobler form in Christianity, and drops the dangerous error, that nature and grace, reason and revelation, the human soul and Christ Jesus, are in antagonism to each other. Some of the liberals, by study of history and of other religions, and more still by experience, have learned that religion is necessarily a social principle; that it must have a cultus; and that religious forms and times and seasons, sacred days and sacred books, and persons exclusively devoted to its service, are indispensable to its uses and its nature. A certain wholesome reaction in favor of ecclesiasticism is manifest in all Christendom, and almost strictly in proportion to the dogmatic decay which exists. The increasing splendor of the Roman-Catholic worship, and the attractions of that Church for Protestants, especially in Great Britain and America, is one evidence of men's strong craving for external worship. The astonishing growth of ritualism in the English Church, and her American daughter; the reaction of Lutheranism in Germany, under Hengstenberg's leadership; the inclination towards a more liturgical form of worship in all the orthodox sects, with the enrichment in color and architectural decoration of the church edifices of all denominations, and the taste for more artistic music in church choirs, all these things prove the irrepressible yearning of the religious mind of our age for visible and incorporated church institutions. Comte's well-known self-evolved ritualism, with more than the formalism and technicalities of Romanism, shows that even atheism is not free from religious necessities and the forms of worship. The free religionists in America, when not of Quaker origin, are not without their own tendencies to ritualism. It is hatred and dread of Romanism which has alone kept Protestantism so bare of visible symbols for two centuries. With the decay of papal power and the disappearance of priestly domination, ritualism must revive, and
Christian worship everywhere grow truer to human tastes and
It is not too much to say, that, amid all these blind and unconscious tendencies, the only church in America that has studied the past and the future, that lives from its thought and knowledge, that consciously represents the freest and yet most religious tendencies of the age, is the Unitarian Church. It has the happy fortune of seeing its purely critical, negative, and destructive period, a quarter of a century behind it. What are new and alarming questions to other Christian sects, it has long ago disposed of and survived all their peril. It alone is wonted to the climate of absolute freedom. It has lived through drought and winter. Feeble as it is, it has passed through and outlived all the diseases which attack new religious developments, the moral and spiritual mildew and worm and blight. Fear, hatred, persecution, indifference, social ostracism, spiritual horror, ecclesiastical censure, all that time-established Orthodoxy could do to annihilate it, it has done; and, however injurious or obstructive to its rapid growth, it has not killed it. Self-criticism, self-distrust, extravagance, and idealism, impractical methods, and theories. pushed to extremes, the more dangerous foes to its life, have proved no more fatal. The practical secession of many of its own disciples into what is called sometimes naturalism, and sometimes free religion,-its later and still more perilous enemy, - has not destroyed it, although it has been near seeming death under this. affliction. But, with all these trials and drawbacks, the Unitarian Church not only lives, but begins to grow; grows where it would not grow for half a century; springs up spontaneously in new communities; increases in its old fields; takes on an active missionary spirit ; is getting practical and earnest in its methods; begins to busy itself with settling Christian forms and usages upon its own foundations; honors its own name; is writing new commentaries or making new translations of the Scriptures, and preparing Sunday-school books and catechisms for its children; extending its scheme of theological education and recruiting new men to its ministry; draws the free men from other pulpits to its own; raises five times the sum it used to do five years ago for strictly denominational purposes; and circulates its literature with success not only among its own people, but more or less among the clergy and laity of Orthodox Christendom. Unitarianism distinctly recognizing itself as Christianity, and determined to maintain its historic antecedents, and to live from the gos
pel root, is every day clearing away the obscurities and doubts and fears that long enveloped it. Above all, it is slowly obtaining a Christology of its own, and a systematic theology, which will furnish lucid, definite, and tenable opinions to those who know that religious sentiment cannot for more than one generation live divorced from religious opinion, and that the momentary, fashionable cry against dogma and creed, is certain to discover its own weakness the moment satisfactory dogmas and creeds come to invite the human mind and heart to their coveted embrace and repose.
It may even be said that although the free religious movement, which since Mr. Parker's day has been always ultimating itself, is now more distinctly and separately organized, and in hands more vigorous and gifted than it is ever likely to find itself again, yet its own candid leaders are not over-much encouraged with their prospects. Its earnest and gifted leader, judging from his writings, does not himself seem to believe in the possibility of organizing for any work, or building up any institutional body upon the simple foundation of the love and pursuit of moral and spiritual truth. Without a dogmatic foundation, either implied or professed, institutions of any kind are impossible. Accordingly and wisely, the honest men who have gone back to natural religion or further still, but yet have this vocation of public teachers, are rapidly discovering that, while eloquent individuals here and there may hold personal followers about them during their own lives, churches and congregations wither and die, when denied a Christian foundation and creed, implied in symbols, if not written in words; understood, if not expressed. I may be sanguine in my hopes, or purblind in my perceptions, but I believe that Rationalism openly divorced from Christianity can no more thrive in America than pure Deism or open Atheism; that whatever seeming success, and it has been alarmingly great, has hitherto attended the theistic party in the Liberal body, has been due to the Christian education and flavor of those who have led it, or to their identification with certain other noble reforms, popular and captivating in their spirit and direction. A theism denying Christianity and abandoning its traditions and usages, no abilities and no personal worth and purity among its representatives and advocates have yet shown themselves able to root in the American mind. And I believe that the tendency has reached its climax, and is already on the decline. With the whole force of the Unitarian body thrown into the Christian branch, I am confident that in five years it will throw off all that