OUR UNITARIAN GOSPEL B M. J. SAVAGE "The good news of the blessed God" BOSTON GEO. II. Ews, 141 FRANKLIN STREET 1898.
Dedication TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THE MESSAGE OF GOD TO HIS CHILDREN MUST BE ONE OF LIFE AND HOPE INSTEAD OF A THEOLOGY WHICH TEACHES DEATH AND DESPAIR.
NOTE. The sermons which make up this volume were spoken in the Church of the Messiah during the season of 1897-98. They are printed as delivered, not as literature, but for the sake of preaching to a larger congregation than can be reached on Sunday morning.
UNITARIANISM "WHAT DO YOU IN PLACE OF WHAT YOU TAKE AWAY?" ARE THERE ANY CREEDS WHICH IT IS WICKED FOR US TO QUESTION? WHY HAVE UNITARIANS NO CREED? THE REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRESENT RELIGIOUS DISCUSSION DOUBT AND FAITH - BOTH IS LIFE A PROBATION ENDED BY DEATH? SIN AND ATONEMENT PRAYER, AND COMMUNION WITH GOD THE WORSHIP OF GOD MORALITY NATURAL, NOT STATUTORY REWARD AND PUNISHMENT THINGS WHICH DOUBT CANNOT DESTROY EVOLUTION LOSES NOTHING OF VALUE TO MAN WHY ARE NOT ALL EDUCATED PEOPLE UNITARIANS? WHERE IS THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH?
THROUGH the lack of having made themselves familiar with the matter, there is a common and, I think, a widespread impression among people generally that Unitarianism is a new-fangled notion, a modern fad, a belief held only by a few, who are one side of the main currents of religious life and advance.
Even if it were new, even if it were confined to the modern world, this would not necessarily be anything against it. The Copernican theory of the universe is new, is modern. So are most of the great discoveries that characterize and glorify the present age.
But in the case of Unitarianism this cannot be said. It is not new: it is very old. And, before I come to discuss and outline a few of its great principles, it seems to me well that we should get in our minds a background of historic thought, that we may see a little what are the sources and origins of this Unitarianism, and may understand why it is that there is a new and modern birth of it in the modern world.
All races start very far away from any Monotheistic or Unitarian belief. The Hebrews are no exception to that rule. The early part of the Bible shows very plain traces of the fact that the Jews were polytheists and nature-worshippers. If I should translate literally the first verse of the Bible, it would read in this way: In the beginning the Strong Ones created the heavens and the earth. "The word that we have translated God is in the plural; and I have already given you its meaning. This is only a survival, a trace, of that primeval belief which the Jews shared with all the rest of the world."
From this polytheistic position the people took a step forward to a state of mind which Professor Max Muller calls henotheism; that is, they believed in the real existence of many gods, but that they were under allegiance to only one, their national Deity, and that him only they must serve.
I suppose this state of thought was maintained throughout the larger part of the history of the Hebrew nation. You will find traces constantly, in the early part of the Old Testament, at any rate, of the belief of the people in the other gods, and their constant tendency to fall away to the worship of these other gods. But by and by all this was outgrown, and left behind; and the Hebrew people came to occupy a position of monotheism, spiritual monotheism, that is, they were passionate Unitarians, so far as the meaning of that word is concerned. Though, of course, I would not have you understand that many, perhaps most, of the principles which are held today under the name of Unitarian were known to them at that time, or would have been accepted, had they been known.
In the sense, however, of believing in the oneness of God, they were Unitarians.
Now, when Christianity comes into the world, what shall we say? It is the assumption on the part of most of the old- time churches that Jesus made it perfectly plain to his disciples that he was a divine being, that he claimed to be one himself, and that the claim was recognized.
So far, however, as any authentic record with which we are familiar goes, Jesus himself was a Unitarian. All the disciples were Unitarians. Paul was a Unitarian. The New Testament is a Unitarian book from beginning to end. The finest critics of the world will tell you that there is no trace of any other teaching there. And so, for the first three hundred years of the history of the Church, Unitarianism was its prevailing doctrine.
I have no very good memory for names. So I have brought here a little leaflet which contains some that I wish to speak of. Among the Church Fathers, Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, all of them in their writings make it perfectly clear and unquestioned that the belief of the Church, the majority belief for the first three centuries, was Unitarian. Of course, the process of thought here and there was going on which finally culminated in the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, people were beginning more and more to exalt, as they supposed, the character, the office, the mission of Jesus; coming more and more to believe that he was something other than a man, that he was above and beyond humanity.
But one other among the Fathers, Justin Martyr, one of the best known of all, takes care to point out explicitly his belief. I will read you just two or three words from it. He says: "There is a Lord of the Lord Jesus, being his Father and God, and the Cause of his existence."
This belief, then, was universal, practically universal, throughout the first three centuries. But the process of growth was going on which finally culminated in the controversy which was settled by the Council of Nicaea, held in the early part of the fourth century; that is, the year 325. The leaders of this controversy, as you know, were Arius, on the Unitarian side, and Athanasius, fighting hard for the doctrine then new in the Church, of the Trinity.
The majority of the bishops and leading men of the Church at that time were on the side of Arius; but at last the Emperor Constantine settled the dispute. Now you know that the sceptre of a despotic emperor may not reason, may not think; but it is weightier than either reason or thought in the settlement of a controversy like this at such a period in the history of the world. So Constantine settled the controversy in favor of the Trinitarians; and henceforth you need not wonder that Unitarianism did not grow, for it was mercilessly repressed and crushed out for the next thousand years.
Unitarianism, however, is not alone in this. Let me call your attention to a fact of immense significance in this matter. All this time the study of science and philosophy, that dared to think beyond the limits of the Church's doctrine, were crushed out. There was no free philosophy, there was no free study of science, there was no free anything for a thousand years. The secular armed forces of Europe, with penalties of imprisonment, of the rack, of the fagot, of torture of every kind, were enlisted against anything like liberty of thinking.
So you need not wonder, then, that there was neither any science nor any Unitarianism to be heard of until the Renaissance. What was the Renaissance? It was the rising again of human liberty, the possibility once more of man's freedom to think and study. Though the armed forces of Europe were for a long time against it, the rising tide could not be entirely rolled back, and so it gained on human thought and human life more and more. And out of this the Renaissance came, the new birth of science, on the one hand, and on the other, issuing in the Reformation's assertion of the right of thought and of private judgment in matters of religion; and along with this latter the rebirth of Unitarianism, its reappearance again as a force in the history of the world.
During this Reformation period there are many names of light and power, among them being Servetus, whom Calvin burned because he was a Unitarian; Laelius and Faustus Socinus, Bernardino Ochino, Blandrata, and Francis David; and, more noted in some ways than any of them, Giordano Bruno, the man who represents the dawn of the modern world more significantly than any other man of his age, not entirely a Unitarian, but fighting a battle out of which Unitarianism sprung, freedom of thought, the right of private judgment, the scientific study of the universe, the attempt, unhampered by the Church's dogma or power, to understand the world in which we live.
As a result of this Renaissance, what happened? Let me run over very rapidly the condition of things in Europe at the present time, with some glances back, that you may see that Unitarianism has played just as large a part as you could expect it to play, larger and grander than you could expect it, considering the conditions.
In Hungary, one of the few countries where freedom of thought in religion has been permitted, there has been a grand organization of the Unitarian Church for more than three hundred years, not only churches, but a Unitarianism that has controlled colleges and universities and directed the growth of learning.
Let us look to the North. In Sweden and Norway it is still a crime to organize a church that teaches that Jesus is not God. So we may expect to find no Unitarian churches there; though there are many and noble Unitarian men, thinkers and teachers. Come to Germany. There are no organized Unitarian churches under that name here; but there is a condition of things that is encouraging for us to note. There is a union of the Protestant organizations, in which the liberals, or Unitarians, are free, and have their part without any question as to their doctrine.
There are hundreds and thousands of Unitarians in South Germany. In the city of Bremen I called on a clergyman who had translated one of my books, and found out from him the condition of things there. The cathedral of Bremen has half a dozen different preachers attached to it. Some of them are orthodox, and some are Unitarian, all perfectly free; living happily together in this way, and the people at liberty to come and listen to which one of them they choose. This is not an uncommon thing in Germany. That is the condition of things, then, there.
In Holland there are no Unitarian churches, no churches going by that name; but there are thousands of Unitarians particularly among the educated and leading men, and one university, that of Leyden, entirely in control of the liberal religious leaders of the country.
When you come to France, which you know is dominantly Catholic, you still find a large body of Protestants; but one wing of their great organization is virtually if not out and out Unitarian. And a few of the most noted preachers of the modern time in France have been Unitarians. I have had correspondence with men there which showed that they were perfectly in sympathy with our aims, our purposes, our work.
In Transylvania and Poland there were large numbers of Unitarian churches which were afterwards crushed out.
You find, then, all over Europe, all over civilization, just as much Unitarianism as you would expect to find, when you consider the questions as to whether the law permits it and as to whether the people are educated and free.
I should like, not for the sake of boasting, but simply that you may see that you are in good company, to mention the names of some of those who are foremost in our thought. Take Mazzini, the great leader of Italy; take Castelar, one of the greatest men in modern Spain; take Kossuth, the flaming patriot of Hungary, all Unitarian men.
Now let us come a step nearer home: let us consider England, and note that just the moment free thought was allowed, you find Unitarianism springing into existence. Milton was a Unitarian; Locke, one of the greatest of English philosophers, a Unitarian; Dr. Lardner, one of its most famous theological scholars, a Unitarian; Sir Isaac Newton, one of the few names that belong to the highest order of those which have made the earth glorious, a Unitarian.
And, then, when we come to later England, we find another great scientist, comparatively modern, Dr. Priestley, who, coming to this country after he had made the discovery of oxygen which made him famous for all time, established the first Unitarian church in our neighbor city of Philadelphia.
The first Unitarian church which took that name in the modern world was organized in London by Dr. Theophilus Lindsey in 1774; and its establishment coincides with the great outburst of freedom that distinguished the close of the eighteenth century.
You must not look for Unitarians where there is no liberty; for it is a cardinal principle of their thought and their life.
Soon after the London movement, the first Unitarian church in this country was organized, or rather the first Unitarian church came into existence. It was the old King's Chapel of Boston, an Anglican church, which came out and took the name Unitarian.
There is a very bright saying in connection with this old church, which I will pause long enough to repeat, because there is a principle in it as well as a great deal of wit. They kept there the old English church service, except that it was purged, according to their point of view, from all Trinitarian belief. It is said that Dr. Bellows, who was attending a service there some years ago, had with him an English gentleman as a visitor. This man picked up the service, looked it over, and, turning to Dr. Bellows, with a sarcastic look on his face, said, "Ah I see that you have here the Church of England service watered." Whereupon Dr. Bellows, with his power of ready wit, replied, No, my dear sir, not watered, washed. King's Chapel, then, was the first Unitarian church in this country. But the number grew rapidly, and in a few years perhaps half, or more than half, of the old historic Puritan and Pilgrim churches in New England had become Unitarian, including in that number the old First Church of Plymouth.
Now, before I go on to discuss the principles underlying our movement, I wish to call your attention to a few more names; and I trust you will pardon me for this. There is no desire for vain-glory in the enumeration. I simply wish that people should know, what only a few do know, who have been Unitarians in the past, and what great names, leading authoritative names in the world's literature and science and art, find here their place.
Among the Fathers of the Revolution, all the Adamses, Dr. Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many another were avowed Unitarians. And, when we come to modern times, it is worth your noting that all our great poets in this country, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and in this city Stedman, are Unitarian names.
Then the leading historians, Bancroft, Motley, Prescott, Sparks, Palfrey, Parkman, and John Fiske, are Unitarians. Educators, like Horace Mann, like the last seven presidents of Harvard University, Unitarians. Great scientists, like Agassiz, Peirce, Bowditch, Professor Draper, Unitarians. Statesmen and public men, like Webster, Calhoun, the Adamses, the Hoars, Curtis. Two of our great chief justices, Marshall and Parsons. Supreme Court Judges, Story and Miller. Literary men, like Whipple, Hawthorne, Ripley, and Bayard Taylor; and eminent women, such as Margaret Fuller, Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, Helen Hunt Jackson, Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, and Mrs. Julia Ward Howe.
I mention these, that you may know the kind of men, ethical, scientific, judicial, political, literary, who have been distinguished, as we think from our point of view, by being followers of this grand faith of ours.
And now I wish you to note again, what I hinted at a moment ago, that it is not an accident that Unitarianism should spring into being in the modern world coincidently with the great movements of liberty in France and England, and the outburst that culminated in our own Revolution and the establishment here of a State without a king as well as of a church without a bishop.
Wherever you have liberty and education, there you have the raw materials out of which to make the free, forward looker in religious thought and life.
Now what are the three principles out of which Unitarianism is born? First, I have already intimated it, but I wish to emphasize it again for a moment with an addition, Liberty. Humanity at last had come to a time in its history when it had asserted its right to be free; not only to cast off fetters that hampered the body, not only to dethrone the despots that made liberty impossible in the State, but to think in the realm of religion, to believe it more honorable to God to think than to cringe and be afraid in his presence.
Second, coincident with the birth of Unitarianism is an enlargement and a reassertion of the conscience of mankind. A demand for justice. Just think for a moment, and take it home to your hearts, that up to the time when this free religious life was born, according to the teaching of all the old creeds, justice and right had been one thing here among men and another thing enthroned in the heavens. The idea has always been that might made right, that God, because he was God, had a right to do anything, though it controverted and contradicted all the ideas of human righteousness; and that we still must bow in the dust, and accept it as true.
If I could be absolutely sure that God had done something which contradicted my conscience, I should say that probably my conscience was wrong. I should wait at any rate, and try to find out. But, when I find that the condition of things is simply this, that certain fallible, unjust, uneducated, barbaric people have said that God has done certain things, then it is another matter. I have no direct word from God: I have only the report of men whose authority I have no adequate reason to accept.
At any rate, the world came to the point where it demanded that goodness on earth should be goodness up in heaven, too; that God should at least be as just and fair as we expect men to be. And that, if you will think it out a little carefully, is enough to revolutionize the theology of the world; for the picture of the character of God as contained in the old theologies is even horribly unjust, as judged by any human standard.
In the third place, Unitarianism sprang out of a new elevation of love and tenderness. As men became more and more civilized, they became more tender-hearted; and they found it impossible to believe that the Father in, heaven should not be as kind and loving as the best father on earth.
And here, again, if you think it out, you will find that this is enough to compel a revolution of all the old theological ideas of the world.
Just as soon, then, as the civilized modern world became free, there was a new expansion of the sense of the right to think; there was a new expansion of conscience, the insistent demand for justice; there was a new expansion of tenderness and love; and out of these, characterized by these, having these in one sense for its very soul and body, came Unitarianism.
Now another point. It is commonly assumed by those who have not studied the matter that, because Unitarians have no printed and published creed, they are all abroad in their thinking. They take this for granted; and so it is assumed by people who speak to me on the subject. They think that there must be just as many views of things as there are individuals.
If there are any persons here having this idea, perhaps I shall astonish them by the statement I am going to make. After more than twenty years of experience as a Unitarian minister, I have come to the conviction that there is not a body of Christians in the world to-day, not Catholic or Presbyterian or Methodist or Congregational or any other, that is so united in its purposes, not only, but in its beliefs, as these very Unitarians.
And the fact is perfectly natural. Take the scientific men of the world. They do not expect a policeman after them if they do not hold certain scientific opinions. There is no authority to try them for heresy or to turn them out of your society unless they hold certain scientific ideas. They have no sense of compulsion except to find and accept that which they discover to be true. The one aim of science is the truth. There is no motive for anything else.
And truth being one, mark you, and they being free to seek for it, and all of them caring simply for that, they naturally come together, inevitably come together. So that, without any external power or orthodox compulsion, the scientific men of the world are substantially at one as to all the great principles. They discuss minor matters; but, when they discuss, they are simply hunting for a deeper truth, not trying to conquer each other.
Now Unitarians are precisely in this position. The only thing any of us desire is the truth. We are perfectly free to seek for the truth; and, the truth being one, we naturally tend towards it, and, tending towards it, we come together. So there is, as I said, greater unanimity of opinion in regard to the great essential points among Unitarians than among any other body in Christendom.
Now, as briefly as I can, I want to analyze what I regard as the fundamental principles of Unitarianism. I am not going to give you a creed, I am not going to give you my creed: I am going to give you the great fundamental principles which characterize and distinguish Unitarians.
First, liberty, freedom of the individual to think, think as he will or think as he must; but not liberty for the sake of itself. Liberty for the sake of finding the truth; for we believe that people will be more likely to find the truth if they are free to search for it than they will if they are threatened or frightened, or if they are compelled to come to certain preordained conclusions that have been settled for them. Freedom, then, for the sake of finding the truth.
Second, God. The deep-down conviction that wisdom, power, love, that is, God, is at the heart of the universe. Third, that God is not only wisdom and power and love, but that he is the universal Father, not merely the Father of the elect, not merely the Father of Christians, not merely the Father of civilized people, but the Father of all men, equally, lovingly, tenderly the Father of all men.
In the next place, being the Father of all men, he would naturally wish to have them find the truth. So we believe in revelation. Not in revelation confined to one book or one epoch in the history of the world, though we do not deny the revelation contained in them. We believe that all truth, through whatever medium it comes to the world, is in so far a revelation of our Father; and it is infallible revelation when it is demonstrably true, and not otherwise.
The next step, then: in the words of Lucretia Mott, we believe that truth should be taken for authority, and not authority for truth. The only authority in the world is the truth. The only thing to which intellectually a free Unitarian can afford to bow is ascertained and demonstrated truth. We believe, then, in revelation.
In the next place, we believe in incarnation. Not in the complete incarnation of God in one man, in one country, in one age, in the history of the world. We believe in the incarnation of God progressively in humanity. All that is true, all that is beautiful, all that is good, is so much of God incarnate in his children, and reaching ever forth and forward to higher blossoming and grander fruitage. The difference between Jesus and other men, as we hold it, is not a difference in kind: it is a difference in degree. So he is the son of our Father, our elder brother, our friend, our leader, our helper, our inspiration.
The next principle of Unitarianism is that character is salvation. We do not even say that character is a condition of salvation. Character is salvation. A man who is right, who is in perfect accord with the law and life of God, is safe, in this world, in all worlds, in this year, in all future time.
And, then, lastly, we believe in the eternal and universal hope. We believe that God, just because he is God, is under the highest conceivable obligation, not to me only, but to himself, to see to it that every being whom he has created shall sometime, somewhere, in the long run, find that gift of life a blessing, and not a curse.
We believe in retribution, universal, quick, unescapable; for we believe that this is mercy, and that through this is to come salvation.
These, then, are the main principles, as I understand them, of Unitarianism.
There is one point more now that I must touch on. When I was considering the question of giving this series of sermons, one of my best friends raised the question as to whether I had better put the word Unitarian? into the title. He was afraid that it might prejudice people who did not like the name, and keep them from listening to what I had to say. This is a common feeling on the part of Unitarians. I was trained as a boy, and through all my youth and early manhood in the ministry, to look with aversion, suspicion, on Unitarianism, and to hate the name. But to-day, after more than twenty years of experience in the Unitarian ministry, I have come to the conviction, which I wish to suggest to you, that it is the most magnificent name in the religious history of the world; and I, for one, wish to hoist it as my flag, to inscribe it on my banner, not because I care for a name, but because of that which it covers and comprehends.
Now, not in the slightest degree in the way of prejudice against other names or to find fault with them, let me note a few of them, and then compare Unitarianism with them. Take the word "Anglican," for example, the name of the Church of England. What does it mean? Of course, you know it is simply a geographical name. It defines nothing as to the Church's government or belief or anything else. There is the word "Episcopal," which simply means a church that is governed by bishops; that is all. Take the word "Presbyterian," from a Greek word which means an elder, a church governed by its old men or its elders. No special significance about that. Then "Baptist," signifying that the people who wear that name believe that baptism always means immersion, indicating no other doctrine by which that body is known, or its method of government. "Congregational," no doctrine significance there. It simply means a church whose power is lodged in the congregation. It is democratic in its methods of government. "Methodist,", applied to the members of a particular church because they were considered over-exact or methodical in their ways. There is no governmental significance there. The name Catholic? or Universal? is chiefly significant from the fact that the claim implied by it is not true. Now let us look for a moment at the word Unitarian, and see whether it has a right to be placed not only on a level with these, but infinitely above and beyond them in the richness, in the wonder of its meaning. Let me lead you to a consideration of it. I want you to note that unity? is the one word of more significance than any other in the history of man; and that it is growing in its depth, its comprehensiveness. What have we discovered? We have discovered in this modern world, only a few years ago, that this which we see, the earth, the stars, and all the wonders of the heavens, is one, a universe. Not only that. We have discovered the unity of force. There are not, as primitive man supposed, a thousand different powers in the universe, antagonistic and fighting with each other. We have learned to know that there is just one force in the universe. That light, heat, electricity, magnetism, all these marvellous and diverse varieties of forces, are one force, and can be at the will and skill of man converted into each other.
Next, we have learned that there is one law in the universe. Should we not be Unitarians? Should we not believe in the unity of God, when we can see, as far as the telescope can reach on the one hand and the microscope on the other, one eternal, changeless Order?
Another point. We have learned the unity of substance. We know how Comte, the famous French scientist, advised his followers not to attempt to find out anything about the fixed stars, because, he said, such knowledge was forever beyond the reach of man. How long had Comte been dead before we discovered the spectroscope? And now we know all about the fixed stars. We know that the stuff we step on in the street this morning as we go home from church is the same stuff of which the sun is made, the same stuff as that which flamed a few years ago as a comet, the same stuff as that which shines in Sirius, in suns so many miles away that it takes millions of years for their light to reach us. One stuff, one substance, throughout the universe; and this poor old, tear-wet earth of ours is a planet shining in the heavens as much as any of them, of the same glorious material of which they are made.
Then, again, we have discovered the unity of life. From the little tiny globule of protoplasm up to the brain of Shakspere, one life throbbing and thrilling with the same divinity which is at the heart of the world.
We have discovered not only the unity of life, we have discovered the unity of man. Not a hundred different origins, different kinds of creatures, different-natured beings, but one blood to dwell in every country on the face of the earth: the unity of man.
We have discovered the unity of ethics, of righteousness, of right and wrong, one right, one wrong. A million applications, but one goal towards which all those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are striving.
One religion: for underneath all the diversity of creeds and religions, barbaric, semi-civilized, civilized, enlightened, we find man, the one child of God, hunting for the clearest light he can command, after the one Father, that is, the one eternal, universal search of the religious life of the race.
Religion then one; one unifying purpose; every step that the world takes in its progress leading it towards liberty, towards light, towards truth, towards righteousness, towards peace. One goal, then, for the progress of man.
And, then, one destiny. Some day, every soul, no matter how belated, shall arrive; some day, somewhere, every soul, however sin stained, shall arrive; every soul, however small, however distorted, however hindered, shall arrive. One destiny. Not that we are to be just alike; only that some time we are to unfold all that is possible in us, and stand, full statured, perfect, complete, in the presence of our Father.
Do I not well, then, to say that Unity, Unitarianism, is a magnificent name, a name to be flung out to the breeze as our banner under which we will fight for God and man; a name beside which all others pale into insignificance; a name that sums up the secret, the centre, the hope, the outcome of the universe? Greatest name in the religious history of man, it coincides with that magnificent hope so grandly uttered by Tennyson, "One God, one law, one element, And one far-off divine event, To which the whole creation moves."
"WHAT DO YOU GIVE IN PLACE OF WHAT YOU TAKE AWAY?"
MY theme is the answer to the question, What do you give in place of what you take away? For my text I have chosen two significant passages of Scripture. One is from the seventh chapter of Hebrews, the nineteenth verse; and it sets forth, as I look at it, the drift and outcome of the process of which we are a part, the bringing in of a better hope. Then from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the thirty- ninth and fortieth verses, expressing the relation in which we stand to those who have looked for God and his work in the past: And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
What do you give in place of that which you take away? This is a question which is proposed to Unitarians over and over and over again. It is looked upon as an unanswerable criticism. We are supposed to be people who tear down, but do not build; people who take away the dear hopes and traditional faiths of the past, and leave the world desolate, without God, without hope.
Not only is this urged against us, from the other side, but there are a great many Unitarians, possibly, who have not thought themselves out with enough clearness to know the relation between the present conditions of human thought and the past; and sometimes even they may look back with a regretful longing towards something which they have outgrown, and left behind.
I propose this morning to answer this question, just as simply, as frankly, as I can; to treat it with all reverence, with all seriousness, and try to make clear what it is that the world has lost as the result of the advances of modern knowledge, and what, if anything, it has gained.
But while I stand here, on the threshold of my theme, and before I enter upon its somewhat fuller discussion, I wish to urge upon you two or three considerations.
It is assumed, by the people who ask this question, that, if we do take away anything, we are under obligation straightway to put something in its place. I wish you to consider carefully as to whether this position is sound. Suppose, for example, that I should discover that some belief that has been held in the past is not well founded, not true. Must I say nothing about it because, possibly, I may not have discovered just what is true?
To illustrate what I mean: Prince Alphonso of Castile used to say, as he studied the Ptolemaic theory of the universe, that, if he had been present at creation, he could have suggested a good many very important improvements. In other words, he was keen enough to see that the Ptolemaic theory of the universe was not a good working theory. Must he keep still about that because, forsooth, he was not able to establish another theory of the universe in its place?
Do you not see that the criticism, the testing of positions which are held, are the primary steps in the direction of finding some larger and grander truth, provided these positions are not adequate and do not hold?
The Rev. Dr. George A. Gordon, of the historic Old South Church in Boston, told us, in an address which he gave in Brooklyn the other day, that Calvinism was dead; that it was even necessary to clear the face of the earth of it, in order to save our faith in God. At the same time Dr. Gordon said frankly that he had no other as complete and finished system to put in place of it. Was he justified in telling the truth about Calvinism because he has not a ready-made scheme to substitute for it?
I wish you to note that I do not concede for an instant that I must not tell the truth about anything that I perceive because I have not a ready-made theory of some kind to put in the place of that which is taken away. It is my business to tell what seems to me true in all reverence, seriousness, earnestness and love, and trust the consequences to God.
In the next place, another consideration. I have been talking as though I conceded that Unitarians, or that I myself, sometimes take away things, beliefs. Now I wish to ask you who it is that takes away beliefs. Has Unitarianism ever taken away any faith or hope or trust from the world? Has anybody ever done it?
If we pit ourselves against one of God's eternal truths, is that truth going to suffer? Rather shall we not beat ourselves to pieces against God's adamant? If a thing is true, nobody is going to take it away from the world; for nobody has the power to uproot or destroy a divine truth.
Who is it, then, that takes these beliefs away? Is it not just this? Does it not mean that men have discovered that what they supposed to be true is not true, and it is the old belief that passes away in the presence of a larger and clearer light? Is not that the process?
When Magellan, for instance, demonstrated that this planet of ours was round by circumnavigating it, the ship returning to the port from which it started, did he take away the old flat earth, fixed and anchored, immovable, around which the sun moved? Why, there was no old, flat and anchored, stationary earth to take away. There never had been. All Magellan did was to demonstrate a new, higher, grander truth. He took away a misconception from the minds of ignorant and uneducated people, and helped put one of God's grand, luminous truths in the place of it. That is all he did.
It is modern intelligence, increasing knowledge, larger, clearer light that takes away old beliefs. But, if these old beliefs are not true, it simply means that we are discovering what is true; that is, having a clearer view and vision of God's ways and methods of governing the world.
I wish you to note, then, in this second place, that Unitarianism does not take away anything.
One third consideration: Suppose we did. Suppose we took away belief in the existence of God. Suppose we took away belief in man as a soul, leaving him simply an animal. Suppose we took away faith in continued existence after death. Suppose we had the power to sweep all of these grand beliefs out of the human mind. Then what?
If I had my choice, I would do it gladly, with tearful gratitude, rather than keep the old beliefs of the last two thousand years.
The late Henry Ward Beecher, in a review article published not long before his death, said frankly this which I am saying now, and which I had said a good many times before Mr. Beecher's article was written, that no belief at all is infinitely, unspeakably better than those horrible beliefs which have dominated and darkened the world.
I would rather believe in no God than in a bad God, such as he has been painted. And, if I had my choice of the future, what would it be? I have, I trust, just over there, father, mother, two brothers, numberless dear ones; and I hope to see them with a hope dearer than any other which I cherish. But, if I were standing on the threshold of heaven itself, and these loved ones were beckoning me to come in, and I had the choice between an eternity of felicity in their presence and eternal sleep, I would take the sleep rather than take this endless joy at the cost of the unceasing and unrelieved torment of the meanest soul that ever lived. And I would have no great respect for any man who would not. I would not care to purchase my joy at the price of endless pangs, the ascending smoke of torment, the wail going up to the sweet heavens forever and ever and ever.
So, even if it were a choice between no belief at all and the old beliefs, the darkness would be light to me; and I would embrace it with joy rather than take the selfish felicity of those men who estimate it as a part of their future occupation to be leaning over the battlements of heaven and witnessing the torture of the damned. This, though sounding so terrible to us now, is good old Christian doctrine, which has often been avowed. Thank God we are outgrowing it.
These, then, for preliminary considerations.
Now let me raise the question as to what has been taken away. You remember I said that I have taken nothing away, Unitarianism has taken nothing away. But the advance of modern knowledge, the larger, clearer revelation of God, has taken away no end of things. What are they?
Let me make two very brief statements right here. I am in the position, this morning, of appearing to repeat myself; that is, I must go over a good many points that I have made from this platform before. But please understand that it is not on account of lapse of memory on my part. I am doing it with a distinct end in view, which can only be attained by these steps.
In the next place, my treatment has so much ground to cover that what I say will appear somewhat in the nature of a catalogue; but I see no other way in which to make the definite statement I wish to lay before you. I am going to catalogue, first, a lot of the things that modern knowledge has taken away. Then I am going to tell you some of the things that modern knowledge is putting in place of what it has removed.
In the first place, the old universe is taken away; that is, that little tiny play-house affair, not so large as our solar system, which in the first chapters of Genesis God is reported to have made as a carpenter working from outside makes a house, inside of six days. That little universe, that is, the story of creation as told in the early chapters of Genesis, is absolutely gone. I shall tell you pretty soon what has taken the place of it.
Secondly, the God of the Old Testament, the God of most of the creeds has been taken away, that God who was jealous, who was partial, who was angry; who built a little world, and called it good, and then inside of a few days saw it slip out of his control into the hands of the devil, either because he could not help it or did not wish to; who watched this world develop for a little while, and then, because it did not go as he wanted it to, had to drown it, and start over again; the God who in the Old Testament told the people that slavery was right, provided they did not enslave the members of their own nation, but only those outside of it; the God who indorsed polygamy, telling a man that he was at liberty to have just as many wives as he wanted and could obtain, and that he was free to dispose of them by simply giving them a little notice and telling them to quit; the God who indorsed hypocrisy and lying on the part of his people; the God who sent a little light on one little people along one edge of the Mediterranean, and left all the rest of the world in darkness; the God who is to damn all of these people who were left in darkness because they did not know that of which they never had any chance to hear; the God who is to cast all his enemies into the pit, trampling them down, as Edwards pictures so horribly to us, in his hate for ever and ever. This God has been taken away.
In the third place, the story of Eden, the creation of man and then immediately the fall of man and the resulting doctrine of total depravity, this has been taken away. That man was made in the image of God, and then, inside of a few days, fell into the hands of the Power of Evil, and that since that day he has been the legitimate subject here on this earth of the prince of this world, that is, the devil, and that is taught both in the Old Testament and in the New, that man is this kind of a being, this is forever gone. There is no rational, intelligent, free belief in it left.
Then the old theory of the Bible has been taken away, that theory which makes it a book without error or flaw, and makes us under the highest obligation to receive all its teachings as the veritable word of God, whether they seem to us hideous, blasphemous, immoral, degrading, or not. This is gone.
Professor Goldwin Smith, in an article published within a year, treats the belief, the continued holding to this old theory about the Bible, under the head of Christianity's "Millstone." He writes from the point of view of the old belief; but he says, if Christianity is going to be saved, this millstone must be taken off from about its neck, and allowed to sink into the sea.
If we hold that theory, what? Why, then, we must still believe that, in order to help on the slaughter of his enemies on the part of a barbarian general, God stopped the whole machinery of the universe for hours until he got through with his killing. We must believe the literal story of Jonah's being swallowed by the whale. We must believe no end of incredibilities; and then, if we dare to read with our eyes open, we must believe immoral things, cruel things, about men and about God, things which our civilization would not endure, were it not for the power of tradition, which hallows that which used to be believed in the past.
This conception of the Bible, then, is gone.
Then, in the next place, the blood atonement is gone. What did that mean to the world? It meant that the eternal Father either would not or could not forgive and receive back to his heart his own erring, mistaken, wandering children unless the only begotten Son of God was slaughtered, and we, as the old awful hymn has it, were plunged beneath this fountain of blood I Revolting, terrible, if you stop to think of it for one reasoning moment, that God cannot forgive unless he takes agony out of somebody equal to that from which he releases his own children! That, though embodied still in all the creeds, has been taken away. It is gone, like a long, hideous dream of darkness.
Belief in the devil has been taken away. What does that mean? It means that Christendom has held and taught for nearly two thousand years that God is not really King of the universe; that he holds only a divided power, and that here thousands on thousands of years go by, and the devil controls the destiny of this world, and ruins right and left millions on millions of human souls, and that God either cannot help it or does not wish to, one of the two. This belief is taken away.
And then, lastly, that which I have touched on by implication already, the belief in endless punishment is taken away. Are you sorry? Does anybody wish something put in the place of this? The belief that all those except the elect, church members, those who have been through a special process called conversion, these, including all the millions on millions outside of Christendom and from the beginning until to-day, have gone down to the flame that is never quenched, the worm that never dies, to linger on in useless torture forever and ever? Simply a monument of what is monstrously called the justice of God! This is gone.
Now, friends, just ask yourselves, as you go home, as you think over what I have said this morning, as to whether there is anything else lost.
Is there anything of value taken away? Let me run over now in parallel fashion another catalogue to place opposite this one, so that we may see as to what has been our loss and as to whether there has been any gain.
In the place of the little, petty universe of Hebrew dream, what have we now? This magnificent revelation of the Copernican students; a universe infinite in its reach and in its grandeur; a universe fit at last to be the home of an infinite God; a universe grand enough to clothe him and express him, to manifest and reveal him; a universe boundless; a universe that has grown through the ages and is growing still, and is to unfold more and more of the divine beauty and glory forevermore. Is there any loss in this exchange?
Now as to God. I have pictured to you, in very bald outline, some of the conceptions of God that have been held in the past. What is our God to-day? The heart, the life, the soul, of this infinite universe; justice that means justice; power that means power; love that surpasses all our imagination of love; a God who is eternal goodness; who from the beginning has folded his child man to his heart, whispering all of truth that he could understand, breathing into him all of life that he could contain, inspiring him with all love and tenderness that he could appreciate or employ, and so, in this way, leading him and guiding him through the ages, year by year and century by century, still to something better and finer and higher; a God, not off somewhere in the heavens, to whom we must send a messenger; not a God separated from us by some great gulf that we must bridge by some supposed atonement; a God nearer to us than our breath; a God who hears the whisper of our want, who understands the dawning wish or aspiration before it takes form or shape; a God who loves us better than we love ourselves or love those who are dearest to us; a God who knows better what we need than we know ourselves, and is more ready to give us than fathers are to give good gifts to their children. Is there any loss here?
In the third place, the new man that has come into modern thought. Not the broken fragments of a perfect Adam; not a man so crippled intellectually that, as they have been telling us for centuries, it was impossible for him to find the truth, or to know it when he did find it; not a being so depraved, morally, that he never desires any good, and never loves anything which is sweet and fine; a being totally depraved, a being who, as one passage in the Old Testament tells us, is so corrupt his very prayer is a sin; conceived, born, in evil, and all his thoughts tainted, and drifting towards that which is wicked. Not this kind of a man. A man who has been on the planet hundreds of thousands of years, who has been learning by experience, who has been animal, who has been cruel, but who at every step has been trying to find the light, has been becoming a little truer and better; a being who has evolved all that is sweetest and finest in the history of the world; who has made no end of mistakes, who has committed no end of crimes, but who has learned through these processes, and at last has given us some specimens of what is possible by way of development in Abraham and Moses and Elijah and David and Isaiah, and a long line of prophets and seers of the Old Testament time; not perfect, but magnificent types of actual men; who has developed in other nations such men as Gautama, the heroes and teachers of China, like Confucius; then Aristotle, Plato, Socrates; the noble men of Rome; who has given us in the modern world the great poets, the great discoverers, the great philanthropists; those devoted to the highest, sweetest things; musicians and artists; who has given us Shakspere, who has given us, crowning them all, as I believe, by the moral beauty and grandeur of his love, the Nazarene, Jesus, our elder brother, Son of God, and helper of his fellow-man; this humanity that has never fallen; that has been climbing up from the beginning, and not sinking down. Is there any loss here?
Then let us see what kind of a Bible modern science and modern discovery and modern scholarship and modern life have given us.
Our Bible is the sifted truth of the ages. There is not a passage in it or a line for which we need apologize. There is nothing incredible in it, except as it is incredibly sweet and good and true. It is the truth that has come to men in all ages, no matter spoken by whose lips, no matter written by what pen, no matter wrought out under what conditions or in whatever civilization or under whatever sky.
All that is true and sweet and fine is a part of God's revelation of himself to his children, and makes up our Bible, which is not all written yet. Every new truth that shall be discovered in the future will make a new line or a new paragraph or a new chapter. God has been writing it on the rocks, in the stars, in the hearts, on the brains of his children; and his hand does not slacken. He is not tired: he is writing still. He will write to-morrow, and next year, and throughout all the coming time. This is the Bible.
We believe, for example, that the saying of the old Egyptian, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, is just as divine and sweet as when said in the New Testament. We believe that the Golden Rule is just as golden when uttered by Confucius hundreds of years before Jesus as it was afterwards.
We believe that the saying about two commandments being the sum and substance of the law was just as holy when Hillel spake them as when Jesus uttered them after his time. All truth is divine, and part of God's divine revelation to his children.
Here is our Bible, then. Now let me speak about Jesus, and see if our thought is less precious than the old. In my old days, when I preached in the orthodox church, Jesus was never half so dear, so helpful to me, as he is now. If I thought of him at all, I was obliged to think of him as somehow a second God, who stood between me and the first one, and through whom I hoped deliverance from the law and the justice of the first. I had to think of him as a part of a scheme that seemed to me unjust and cruel, involving the torture of some and the loss of most of the race. You cannot pick the old-time Jesus out of that scheme of which he is a part. I could not love him then as I love him now. I could not think of him as an example to follow; for how can one take the Infinite for an example? How can one follow the absolutely Perfect except afar off?
But now I think of Jesus and his cross as the most natural and at the same time the divinest thing in the history of man. Nothing outside of the regular divine order in it. Jesus reveals to me to-day the humanness of God and the divineness of man. And he takes his place in the long line of the world's redeemers, those who have wrought atonement, how? Through faithfulness even unto death.
The way we work out the atonement of the world, that is, the reconciliation of the world to God, is by being true to the vision of the truth as it comes to us, no matter by the pathway of what suffering, true as Jesus was true, true even when he thought his Father had forsaken him.
Do you know, friends, I think that is the grandest thing in the world. He verily believed that God had forsaken him; and yet he held fast to his trust, to his truth, to his faithfulness, even when swooning away into the unconsciousness of death.
There is faith, and there is faithfulness; and he shares this with thousands of others. There are thousands of men who have suffered more than Jesus did dying for his own truth; thousands of martyrs who, with his name on their lips, have gone through greater torture than he did. All these, whoever has been faithful, whoever has suffered for the right, whoever has been true, has helped to work out the atonement, the reconciliation, of the world with God, showing the beauty of truth and bringing men into that admiration of it that helps them to come into accord with the divine life.
Then one more point. Instead of the wail of the damned that is never, through all eternity, for one moment hushed in silence, we place the song of the redeemed, an eternal hope for every child born of the race. We do not believe it is possible for a human soul ultimately to be lost. Why? Because we believe in God. God either can save all souls or he cannot. If he can and will not, then he is not God. If he would and cannot, then he is not God. Let us reverently say it: he is under an infinite obligation to his own self, to his own righteousness, to his own truth, his own power, his own love, his own character, to see to it that all souls, some time, are reconciled to him.
This does not mean a poor, cheap, an easy salvation. It means that every broken law must have its consequences so long as it remains broken. It means that in this world and through all worlds the law- breaker is to be followed by the natural and necessary results of his thoughts, of his words, of his deeds; but it means that in this punishment the pain is a part of the divine love. For the love of God makes it absolutely necessary that the object of that love shall be delivered from sin and wrong, and brought into reconciliation with himself; and the pain, the necessary results of wrongdoing, are a part of the divine tenderness, a part of the divine faithfulness, a part of the divine love. So we believe that through darkness or through light, through joy or through sorrow, some time, somewhere, every child of God shall be brought into his presence, ready to sing the song of peace and joy and reconciled love.
Now, friends, I have gone over all the main points of the theology of our question. I have told you what I think the results of modern study have taken away. I have indicated to you what I believe is to come and take the place of these things that are absolutely gone. Ask yourselves seriously, if you are not one of us, is there a single one of these things that modern investigation is threatening that you really care to keep? If you could choose between the two systems and have your choice settle the validity of them, would you not choose the second, and be grateful to bid good-by to the first?
Remember, however, at the end let me say, as I did at the beginning, that, if these things pass away and the other finer things come in their places, Unitarianism is not to be charged by its enemies with destroying the old, neither is it to take the credit on the part of its friends for having created all the new. That distinguishes us as Unitarians from any other form of faith is that we believe in the living, loving, leading God of the modern world, and are ready gladly to take the results of modern investigation, believing that they are only a part of the revelation of the divine truth and the Father's will.
We accept these things, stand for them, proclaim them; but we did not create them. If anything is gone that you did not like, we did not take it away. If anything is come that you do like, give God the glory; and let us share with you the joy and praise.
ARE THERE ANY CREEDS WHICH IT IS WICKED FOR US TO QUESTION?
ANY body of people whatsoever has, of course, an undoubted right to organize on the basis of any belief or principles which it may happen to hold. This, always, on the supposition that those principles or beliefs are not antagonistic to human welfare. They have a right to establish the conditions of membership and limit their numbers as much as they please.
For example, suppose a set of persons chanced to hold the belief that the so-called Shakspere plays were written by Bacon. They have a perfect right to organize a society, and to say that nobody shall be a member of that society unless he agrees with them in this belief. If I happen, as I do, to hold some other conviction about the matter, I have no right to blame them because they do not wish me to be a member. I can organize, if I please, another society that shall have for its cardinal doctrinal statement the belief that Shakspere was the author of these plays. There is no need that I should quarrel with people holding these other ideas.
Or, if I am a laboring man, in the technical sense of the word that is commonly used to-day, I have a right to organize a society devoted to the furtherance of the eight- hour movement, or any other specific end or aim which seems to me necessary to the welfare of society as organized in the modern world.
All this we concede at the outset. People have a perfect right to organize on the basis of their particular beliefs, and to keep out of their organization those persons who do not happen to agree with them. But, and here is a most important consideration, if these beliefs seem to us who are outside to be vital; if they appear to concern us, to touch our well-being, our future hopes, then we certainly have a right to study those beliefs, to criticise them, to put them to the test to see whether they are well founded, whether they have any adequate basis of support.
And, still further, if the people holding a certain set of beliefs tell us that they are inspired of God, that they are spokesmen for God, that they have had committed to them a certain definite deposit of faith for the benefit of the world; if they tell us that, unless we agree with them, unless we accept the conditions and come into their organization, then we are opposed to God, are endangering our own souls, and are enemies of the human race, then it becomes not merely our right to look into these matters: does it not become our most solemn duty? Are we not under the highest of all obligations to decide for ourselves one way or the other as to whether these claims are valid? For, if they are, then there is nothing so important for us as that we should accept them and live in accordance with them, join the societies that are organized on them as a basis, do our utmost to extend their acceptance throughout the world.
If they are not valid, then we ought to do our very best to prove this also, and help those who are in bondage to these false ideas to attain their liberty, in order that they may join with us in finding out that which is true, in order that together we may work for the discovery of the will of God, and that we may co-operate in helping the world to find and obey that will.
You would suppose from the ordinary assumption of those who hold the old creeds, and who have organized their churches on these creeds, as foundation stones, that there had been at the outset a clear, a definite revelation of truth, that it had been unquestioned, that it had come with credentials enough to satisfy the world that the speakers spoke by authority, and that the matter had from the beginning been well understood.
It is assumed that we who do not hold these ideas are wilfully wrong, that we are not inclined to accept the divine truth, that it is on account of the hardness and wickedness of our hearts, and that we prefer evil rather than good. We are told that we might know, if we would, that the matter is definite, and has been perfectly well settled from the beginning. This, I say, is the assumption.
Let us now, then, investigate the matter for a little while, just as calmly, just as simply, just as dispassionately as we are able.
I confess to you, at the outset, that I do not like such a task as to- day seems to be imposed upon me. I do not like to be put in the position of seeming to criticise my fellow- citizens, my friends, and neighbors; but it seems to me that it is more than a task, that it is a duty, and one that I cannot readily escape. I mean as little as possible even to seem to criticise people; but I must look into the foundations of their beliefs, and see whether they are valid, whether there is any reason why we should feel ourselves compelled to-day to accept them.
Let us take our place, then, at the outset of Christianity by the side of Jesus and the apostles. Now let us note one strange fact. For the first two or three hundred years the belief of the Church was chaotic, unconfirmed, unsettled. There was dispute and discussion of the most earnest and most bitter kind concerning what are regarded to-day as the very fundamentals of the Christian faith.
This would hardly seem possible, would it, if Jesus had made himself perfectly clear and explicit in regard to these matters? If Jesus were really God, and if he came down on to this earth for the one express purpose of telling humanity what kind of moral and spiritual condition it was in, just what it needed in order to be saved, would you not suppose that he would have been so clear that there could have been no honest question about it?
If, for example, Jesus knew he was God, ought not he to have told it so plainly that no honest man could go astray about it? If he knew that the human race fell in Adam and was in a condition of loss under the general wrath and curse of God, ought not he to have said something about Adam, something about the Garden of Eden, something about the fall? Yet it never appears anywhere that he did. If he knew it was absolutely necessary for us to hold certain ideas about the Bible, ought not he to have told us? If he knew that the great majority of the human race was going to endless and hopeless torment in the future unless they held certain beliefs, ought not he to have made it plain?
But take that which I read as a part of our Scripture lesson this morning, that magnificent picture of the judgment scene, where he divides the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Who are the sheep, and who are the goats? Those who are to be admitted with glad welcome to the presence of the Father are simply those that have been morally good; and those who are told they must be shut out are simply those who have bee morally bad. There is no hint of the necessity of any belief at all. Nothing said about any Bible, about any Trinity, about any faith, about anything that is supposed to be essential as a condition of salvation, not a word. Only the good receive the welcome, and the bad are shut out. That is all.
If this is not true, ought he not to have told us something about it, and made it perfectly clear?
Now what was the condition of popular belief? Let me illustrate it by one or two points. Origen, for example, one of the most famous of the Church Fathers, believed and preached the pre-existence of the human soul and universal salvation. Now, if Jesus said anything contrary to this belief of universal salvation, either Origen did not know anything about it or he did not regard it as of any authority, one or the other. We cannot conceive of his holding a position of this sort if he had known that Jesus had pronounced explicitly to the contrary.
Take another illustration. Two weeks ago this morning I had occasion to quote to you a few words from another of the old Church Fathers, Justin Martyr, who taught explicitly that Jesus was not the equal of the Father, but a subordinate and created being. Now, if Jesus had clearly taught anything approaching the doctrine of the Trinity, is it conceivable that Justin Martyr had not heard of it, or, having heard of it, had not accepted it?
At any rate, if these things were true and important, it is inconceivable that the Church Fathers, the very founders of Christianity, should have been all at sea in regard to them, should have held divergent opinions, and should have been discussing these questions one way and the other for three hundred years.
Let us now see what we have as a basis for belief in regard to what Jesus really did say. The Gospels grew up in a time when there was no shorthand writing, no reporting. Jesus does not say one word about having any record made of his teaching, does not seem to have considered it of the slightest importance. He simply talks and converses as friend with friend, preaches to the crowds wherever they gather, but says nothing whatever about founding any system of doctrine, says nothing about the importance of having a statement of his doctrine kept.
The Gospels, as a matter of fact, did not come into their present shape for many years after his death. How long? The critics are not at one in regard to it. A book has recently been translated from the German, by a professor in the Union Theological Seminary in this State, which says that not a single one of the Gospels was known in its present shape until between the years 150 and 200 A.D. All scholars do not accept this; but they are all at one in the statement that it was a great many years after the death of Jesus before they came into the shape in which we know them to-day.
There was, then, no clear record at the first in regard to these matters of belief; and, as I said a moment ago, for the first two or three hundred years the condition of the Church was chaotic. It was a long time coming to a consciousness of itself.
Now let us note the time when a few of the creeds were formed, and what are some of their characteristics.
Although the Apostles' Creed would seem to take us back to the apostles, we are not to deal with that first, because it was not the first one of the creeds to come into its present shape.
The oldest creed that we have to-day is the Nicene. When was that formed? It was agreed upon at the Council of Nicaea, in the early part of the fourth century. Now note, if you please, what influences shaped and determined it.
Did those who proposed that this particular clause or that should enter into it have any proof of their belief? Did they even claim to have? Why, the idea of evidence, the thought of proof, was absolutely unknown to the mind of Christendom at that time. Nobody thought of such a thing as proposing to prove that this or that or the other was true.
The Nicene Creed came into existence very much, indeed, as does the platform of a political party at the present time. One man fought for this proposition, another man for that one; and at last it was a sort of compromise decided by a majority. And how was the majority reached? Friends, there were bribes, there were threats, there were all kinds of intimidation, there were blows, there was wrangling of every kind, there was banishment, there was murder. There has not been a political platform in the modern world evolved out of such brutal, conflicting, anti-religious conditions as those which prevailed before and in connection with the Council of Nicaea.
Anything like evidence? Not heard of or thought of. Anything like quiet brooding of those who supposed they were, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, receiving divine and sacred truth? The farthest possible from any conditions that could be suggested by such a thought.
And at the last, though undoubtedly the majority of the Church at that time was Unitarian, as I told you the other day it was the decisive influence of the Emperor Constantine which settled the controversy. Thus came into existence in the fourth century the oldest of the church Creeds which is recognized as authoritative in the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Episcopal churches of the present time.
And this Nicene Creed, if I had time to go into it and analyze it, I could show you contains elements which no intelligent man in any of these churches thinks of believing at the present time; and yet nobody dares suggest a change, or the bringing it into accord with what the intelligence of the modern world knows to be true.
Let us pass on, and consider for a moment the Apostles' Creed, so called. There was a time in the Church when people really supposed that the apostles were its author. There are persons to-day who have not discovered the contrary. I crossed the ocean a few years ago when on board were a bishop of one of the Western States and a young candidate for orders who was travelling with him as his pupil. I fell into conversation with this young man, and found that he really believed that the twelve clauses of the Apostles' Creed were manufactured by the apostles themselves. He had never discovered anything to the contrary.
A still more astonishing fact came to my knowledge last year. During that discussion over Ian McLaren's creed, in which so many people were interested last winter, Chancellor McCracken, of the University of New York, published a letter, in which he referred to the Apostles' Creed as written eighteen hundred years ago. It took my breath away when I read it. I wondered, Could the chancellor of a great University possibly be ignorant of the facts? Would he state that which he knew was not true? I could not explain it either way. I was compelled to think, if he was thoughtless and careless about it, that he had no business to be about a matter of such importance. But he said the Apostles' Creed was written eighteen hundred years ago.
Now what are the facts? The apostles had nothing whatever to do with the creed, as everybody knows to-day who chooses to look into the matter. It grew, and was four or five hundred years in growth, one phrase in one shape held in a certain part of the Church, another phrase in another shape held in another part of the Church, people holding nothing so sacred about it but that they were at perfect liberty to change it and add to it and take away from it, until, as we get it to- day, it appeared for the first time in history at about the year 500. And yet it stands in the Church to-day claiming to be the Apostles' Creed.
And this Apostles' Creed, if it were a part of the purpose I have in mind this morning, I could analyze, and find that it contains elements which nobody accepts to-day; and yet nobody dares to propose touching it, such is the reverence for that which is old. So much more reverence does the world have for that which is old than for that which is true.
If you approach a Churchman in regard to his belief in the resurrection of the body, he will say, Of course, we do not believe in the resurrection of the body: we believe in the resurrection of the soul. But he does not believe in the resurrection of the soul, either.
Let me make two statements in regard to this. In the first place, if he does not believe in the resurrection of the body, he has no right to say it, because the House of Bishops, representing the whole Church of the United states, in an authoritative pastoral letter issued within three years, declares that fixity of interpretation is of the essence of the creeds. No man, then, is at liberty to change the interpretation to suit himself.
And then, again, nobody, as I say, believes in the resurrection of the soul. Why? Because that statement, with the authority of the House of Bishops that nobody has any business to change or reinterpret, carries with it a world underneath the surface of the earth to which the dead go down; and resurrection means coming up again from that underground world. Nobody believes in any underground world to-day. You cannot be resurrected. That is, you cannot rise again unless you have first gone down. It is the ascent of the soul we believe in to-day, and not its resurrection, much less the resurrection of the body.
Now a word in regard to another of the great historic creeds.
The third one to be shaped was the Athanasian Creed. Curiously named most of these are. There was a tradition in the Church that Athanasius, who was one of the great antagonists of the Council of Nicaea, wrote this creed called after his name; but, as a matter of fact, the creed was not known in the Church in the shape in which we have it now until at least four or five hundred years after Athanasius was dead.
The Athanasian Creed dates from the eighth or ninth century; and in this for the first time there is a clear, explicit, definite formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. It never had been shaped in perfection until the time of the Athanasian Creed; and this creed contains among other things those famous damnatory clauses? which the Episcopal Church in this country, to their credit be it said, have left out of their Prayer Book. But this Athanasian Creed is obliged to be sung thirteen times every year in the Church of England; and you can imagine with what grace and joy they must sing the statement that, unless a man believes every single word and sentence of it, he shall no doubt perish everlastingly.
The Athanasian Creed, then, takes us only to the eighth or ninth century. You see, do you not, that, instead of there having been any clear, explicit, definite statement of church beliefs on the part of Jesus and his apostles, they are long and slow growths, and not built up on the basis of proof or evidence, simply opinions which people came to hold and fight for and preach, until at last they got a majority to believe in them, and they were accepted by some council.
I wish now to ask your attention for a few moments to one or two of the modern statements of beliefs. We are face to face here in this modern world with a very strange condition of affairs. I wish I could see the outcome of it. Here are churches printing, publishing, scattering all over America and Europe, statements of belief which perhaps hardly one man in ten among their pew-holders or vestrymen believes. They will tell you they do not believe them; they are almost angry with you if you make the statement that these are church beliefs; and at the same time we are in the curious position of finding that the man who proposes himself as a candidate for the ministry in any of these churches dares not question or doubt these horrible statements. And, if it is found that he does question them after he gets into the ministry, he is in danger of a trial for heresy.
We have had a perfect storm here in New York in one of our greatest churches over Dr. Briggs. And what was Dr. Briggs tried for? Simply for raising the question as to whether every part of the Old Testament was infallible. That was all. Another professor in a theological seminary in the West was turned out of his professorship for a similar offence. An Episcopal minister, a friend of mine in Ohio, was turned out of his church for daring to entertain some of the modern ideas which are in the air, and which intelligent people believe everywhere. One of the best known Episcopal ministers in this city to-day has an indictment over his head. It has been there for eight years; and it is only by the good will of his bishop that he is tolerated. His crime is daring to think, and to believe what all the respectable text-books of the modern world teach.
And people in the pews are indignant if you say that their Church holds these ideas! It is a curious state of affairs. How long is it going to last? What is to be its outcome? I do not know.
But let us look for a moment at another. Let us note one or two points in the Presbyterian Confession of Faith.
It teaches still, with what it claims to be absolute authority, that God, before the foundation of the world, selected just the precise number of people that he was going to save; that he did this, not in view of the fact that they were going to be good people at all, but arbitrarily of his own will, not to be touched or changed by anything in their character or conduct. All the rest he is to "pass by "; and they are to go to everlasting woe. The elect are very few: those who are passed by are the many. And why does he do this? Just think for a moment. There is no such colossal egotism, such extreme of selfishness, in all the world as that attributed to God in this Confession of Faith. The one thing he lives for, cares for, thinks of, labors after, is what? His own glory. He saves a few people to illustrate the glory of his grace and mercy. He damns all the rest purely to illustrate the glory of some monstrous thing called his justice.
This kind of doctrine we are expected to believe to-day.
And worse yet, if anything can be worse. I wonder how many loving, tender mothers in all these churches know it, how many know that the little babe which they clasp to their bosoms with such infinite tenderness and love, which they think of as a gift from the good God, right out of heaven, is an enemy of God, is under the curse and wrath of God? How many of you know that your creed teaches that God hates this blessed little babe, and that, if he does not happen to be one of the elect, he must suffer torment in darkness forever and ever?
That is taught in your confession of faith, which I have right here at my hand. The only mitigation of it that I have ever heard of on the part of consistent believers is the saying of Michael Wigglesworth, a famous alleged poet of the Puritan time in New England, when he states explicitly that none of these non-elect children can be saved, but since they are infants, and not such bad sinners as the grown up ones, their punishment shall be mitigated by their having the easiest room in hell.
Friends, you smile at this. This poem of Michael Wigglesworth's was a household treasure in New England for a hundred years. No end of editions was sold. It was earnestly, verily believed; and the doctrine is still taught every time that a new edition of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith? is issued in this country or in Europe.
Shall we escape these things by going into other churches? Some of them, yes; but the essentials are there in all of them.
Take for one moment the Episcopal Prayer Book. I have had friends in the old churches who have become Episcopalians for no reason that I could imagine, except that it seemed to them they were escaping some of the sharpest corners of the old beliefs; and yet, if you will read carefully the form of service for the baptism of infants in the Episcopal Prayer Book as held to-day and in constant use in every Episcopal Church in this country and England and throughout Europe, you will find that it is taught there in the plainest and most forcible way that the unbaptized infant is a child of wrath, is under the dominion of the devil, is destined to everlasting death, and is regenerated only by having a little water placed on its forehead and by a priest saying over him certain wonderful words.
Can you believe, friends, for one moment that a little child this minute belongs to the devil, is under his dominion, hated of God, doomed to eternal death, then the priest puts his fingers in some water, touches its forehead, and says, "I baptize thee," etc., and the child, after this is said, five minutes later, God loves, has taken to his arms as one of his own little children, and is going to receive him to eternal felicity forever?
Can we believe such things to-day? Do people believe them? If they do not, are they sincere in saying they do, in supporting the institutions that proclaim to the world every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year that they do believe them?
I have now said all I am going to about these creeds in any special way. I wish now to discuss the general situation for a little.
I have heretofore said, I wish to say it again, to make it perfectly plain and emphasize it, that all these old Creeds are based on the supposed ruin of the race. They have come into existence for the express purpose of saving as many souls as possible from this ruin. They never would have been heard of but for the belief in this ruin. And yet to-day there is not a intelligent man in Christendom that does not know that the doctrine of man's fall and ruin is not only doubtful, but demonstrably untrue. It is not a matter of question: it is settled; and yet these churches go on just as though nothing had happened.
Is it sincere? Is it quite honest? Is this the way you use language in Wall Street, in your banks and your stores? Is this the way you maintain your credit as business men?
Oh, let us purge these statements of outgrown crudities, cruelties, falsities, blasphemies, infamies! Let us dare to believe that the light of God to-day is holier than the mistakes about Him made by those who walked in darkness.
Now let me suggest to you. Every one of these creeds sprang out of a theory of the universe that nobody any longer holds. They are Ptolemaic in their origin, not Copernican. They sprang out of a time when it was believed that this was a little tiny world, and God was outside of it, governing it by the arbitrary imposition of his law. Every one of these creeds is fitted to that theory of things; and that theory of things has passed away absolutely and forever.
Consider for just a moment. Why should we pay such extravagant deference to the opinions of men who lived in the dark ages, of the old Church Fathers, of Athanasius, of Arius, of Justin Martyr, of Origen, of Tertullian? Why, friends, just think for a moment. There was hardly a single point connected with this world that they knew anything about. How did it happen that the whole modern world should get on its knees in their presence, as though they knew everything about the Infinite, when they knew next to nothing about the finite? Is there any proof that they knew anything about it? Not one single particle.
Think for a minute. We know to-day unspeakably more about the origin of the Bible, how it grew, how it came into its present shape, than any man from the first century until a hundred years ago could by any possibility know. We know a good deal more than Paul, though he was one of the writers, unspeakably more. He had no means of knowing. We have sifted every particle of evidence, every source of knowledge that the world has to show. We know unspeakably more about this universe than any man of the olden time had any way of knowing. He had no way of knowing anything.
I said something recently about the origin and nature of man. Very little was known about this until within the present century. We know something about how religions grow. We have traced them, studied them, not only Christianity and Judaism, but all the religions of the world back to their origin, and seen them coming into shape. We can judge something about them to-day. You want the antiquity of the world? People are bowing in the presence of what they suppose to be the antiquity, that is, the hoary-headed wisdom, of the world. Why, friends, as you go back, you are not going back to the old age of the world: you are going back to its childhood. The world was never so old as it is this morning. Humanity was never so old, never had such accumulated experience, such accumulated knowledge, as it has this morning.
If you want the results of the world's hoary-headed antiquity, its wisdom, its accumulated experience, its knowledge, then get the very latest results of the very finest modern investigations; for that is where you will find them.
Then let us note in just a word some other reasons why we cannot hold these old creeds. The statements that are made about God are horrible. The statements that are made in regard to the method by which God is going to deal with his creatures are horrible; and then what they tell us in regard to the outcome of human history is pessimistic and hopeless in the extreme.
Where do they claim to get the authority for these old beliefs? They tell us they find them on the one hand in the Bible. What do you find in the Bible? You find almost anything you look for. Is it not perfectly natural you should? The Bible was written by ever so many different writers during a period covering nearly a thousand years. Would you expect to find the same ideas throughout it? The book of Ecclesiastes teaches that man dies like a dog. The Bible upholds polygamy, slavery, cruelty of almost every kind. You might prove almost any kind of immorality from the Bible if you wished to.
But take the highest and noblest conception of the Bible you can have. I was talking with an eminent and widely known clergyman of the Presbyterian Church during the present year; and we were speaking about the Bible. I tell you this to show how modern ideas are permeating the thoughts of men. He said: I confess that, if God had ever given the world an infallible book, I should be utterly appalled and disheartened; because it is perfectly clear that we have no such book now. And, if God ever gave us such a book, then he has lost control of his universe, and was not able to keep us in possession of it.
Here are Quakers and Methodists proving their beliefs, the Baptists proving theirs, the Episcopalians proving theirs, the Presbyterians theirs, all of them different in some particular, and each of them getting their proof from the Bible.
Let us remember that the Bible is simply a great body of national literature, and that you can prove anything out of it. Then remember that it has been proved over and over again by the facts of the handwriting of God himself to be mistaken and wrong in any number of directions.
God is writing his own book in the heavens, in the earth, in the human heart; and we are reading the story there. No creed, then, particularly if it be infamous and unjust and horrible, can prove itself to us so that we are bound to accept it to-day on the basis of an appeal to any book. But the Catholic Church claims not only that the book is infallible, but that their church tradition is infallible too. Is it? How can a church prove that its declarations are infallible? Is there any way of proving it? Think for a moment. It can make the claim: the only conceivable way of proving it is by never making a mistake. Try the Catholic Church by that test. It has committed itself over and over and over again to things which have been demonstrated beyond question to be mistakes. It has made grave mistakes, not only as to fact, but as to morals as well.
On what, then, shall we base any one of these "infallible" creeds? There is no basis for any such claim; and thank God there is not. For now we are free to study, here, there, everywhere; to read God's word in the stars; to read it in the rocks; to read it in the remains of old-time civilizations; to read it in the development of education, the arts, science; to read it in the light of the love we have for each other, the love for our children, and the growing philanthropy and widening benevolence of mankind.
We have thus perfect freedom to listen when God speaks, to see when he holds a leaf of his ever-growing book for our inspection, and to believe concerning him the grandest and noblest and finest things that the mind can dream or the heart can love.
WHY HAVE UNITARIANS NO CREED?
FOR a Scripture suggestion touching the principle involved in my subject, I refer you to the words found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, the forty-third and the forty-fourth verses, "Ye have heard that it hath been said; but I say unto you." I take these phrases simply as containing the principle to which I wish to call your earnest attention at the outset.
Jesus here recognizes the fact that the religious beliefs of one age are not necessarily adequate to a succeeding age. So he says over and over in this chapter, Ye have heard that it hath been said by the fathers, by the teachers, the religious leaders in old times, so and so: but I say unto you something else, something in advance, something beyond.
If any one chooses to say that Jesus was infallible, inspired, and therefore had a right to modify the teachings of the fathers, still this does not change the principle at all. In any case he recognized the fact that the beliefs of the old time might not be sufficient to the new time.
And, even if any one should take the position that Jesus was the second person in the Trinity, that he was the one who revealed the old-time truth, and also revealed the new, still the principle is not changed: it is conceded, whatever way we look at it. For, even if he were God, he is represented as giving the people in the time of Moses, the time of David, certain precepts, certain things to believe, certain things to do, and then, recognizing at a later time that they were not adequate, changing those precepts, and giving them something larger, broader, deeper, to accept and to practise.
Because this principle is here involved, I have taken these words as my Scripture point of departure.
Now to come to the question as to why Unitarians have no creed. Of course, the answer, though it sounds like an Hibernicism, is to say that they do have a creed. Not a creed in the sense in which some of the older churches use the word. If by creed you mean a written or published statement of belief, one that is supposed to be fixed and final, one that is a test of religious fellowship, which is placed at the door of the church so that no one not accepting it is able to enter, why, then, we have no creed. But, in the broader sense of the word, it means belief; and Unitarians believe quite as much, and, in my judgment, things far nobler and grander, than those which have been believed in the past.
We are ready, if any one wishes it, to write out our creed. We are perfectly willing that it should be printed. We can put it into twelve clauses, like the Apostles' Creed; we can make thirty-nine clauses or articles, like the Creed of the Anglican Church; we can arrange it any way that is satisfactory to the questioner. Only we will not promise to believe all of it to-morrow; we will not say that we will never learn anything new; we will not make it a test of fellowship; we will admit not only to our meeting-house, but to our church organization, if they wish to come, people who do not believe all the articles of the creed that we shall write. Perhaps we will admit people who do not believe any of it; for our conception of a church is not the old conception.