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most trustworthy of the Gospels, he was profoundly in error on these important points, whereon absurd doctrines have still a most pernicious influence in Christendom. But it would be too much to expect a man about thirty years of age’ in Palestine, in the first century, to have outgrown what is still the doctrine of learned ministers all over the Christian world. He was mistaken in the interpretation of the Old Testament, if we may take the word of the Gospels. But if he supposed that the writers of the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the prophecies spoke of him; if he applied their poetic figures to himself, it is yet but a trifling mistake, affecting a man's head, not his heart. It is no more necessary for Jesus than for Luther to understand all ancient literature, and be familiar with criticism and antiquities; though with men who think religion rests on bis infallibility, it must indeed be a very hard case for their belief in Christianity.”1 Now, in this extract it is noticeable, that Parker accepts the orthodox exegesis respecting future punishment, a personal devil, and Messianic prophecies; that he rejects the exegesis which prevails, on those topics, among Unitarians and Universalists. He also expresses a doubt as to the claim of the New Testament, not merely to divine authority, or special inspiration, but to the trustworthiness of ordinary history. And he very graciously apologizes for the errors of Jesus, attributing them to youthful enthusiasm, inexperience, and limited advantages for culture. But the point to be especially noticed is, that he finds no element of authority in Christ as a religious teacher; he has a feeling of pity for all, of whatever shade of belief, who hold to the infallibility of
1 Discourse of Religion (Little & Brown, Boston, 1856), pp. 276, 277.
Calls Christ and the Bible idols.
Unitarians denounced for retain
Jesus. He says in another place, speaking of modern theology, it “has two great idols, the
BIBLE and CARIST.” 1 The Unitarian body is denounced by Parker for still recognizing the authority of the Son of God. That party, he says, “ differs theoretically from the orthodox party in exegesis, and that alone; like that, is ready to believe any
thing which has a thus-saith-the-Lord before it; its Christianity rests on the authority of Jesus;
that on the authority of his miracles; and his ing them.
miracles on the testimony of the Evangelists. The old landmarks must not be passed by, nor the Bible questioned as to its right to be master of the soul. Christianity must be rested on the authority of Christ.”2 Such, he alleges, is the doctrine of conservative Unitarians; and from it he earnestly dissents, as being “ too narrow for the soul.” The fact that Christ claims this authority he does not deny, but considers it one of the mistakes into which Christ's enthusiasm led him.
Parker more usually calls his own system or speculation the Absolute Religion, thottgh not always. In one place, distinguishing it from the prevailing theology, he calls it spiritualism; and says it teaches that “God is immanent
in spirit and in space.” Here we have, at the kerism finds very threshold, a statement which is strictly pan
theistic in form. This spiritualism, the author goes on to say, “ believes that God is near the soul; hears him in all true Scripture, Jewish or Phænician; stoops at the same fountain as Moses or Jesus. It sees in Jesus a man living man-like, highly gifted, though not without
1 Discourse of Religion, p. 453.
2 Ibid., p. 439.
He lived for himself; died for himself; worked out his own salvation, and we must do the same, for one man cannot live for another more than he can eat and sleep for another. The divine incarnation is in all mankind." So high is the throne of judgment on which Parker seats himself. Nor is it easy to see how the statement, that all mankind are the incarnation of God, differs from the most distinctive utterances of Spinozism. But waiving this point for the present, and still tracing the plain marks Parker has left of his estimate of Jesus, we find him saying, in an account of his early experiences, “ I had no belief in the plenary, infallible, verbal inspiration of the whole Bible, and strong doubts as to the miraculous inspiration of any part of it. I could not put my finger on sany great moral or religious truth taught by revelation in the New Testament, which had not previously been set forth by men for whom, no miraculous help was ever claimed.” 2
Of the Old Testament Parker says, “The legendary and mythological writings of the Hebrews have no more authority than the similar narratives of the Phænicians, the Persians, and the Chinese.” 3
outgrown. He thinks that many things in those ancient writings were relatively true, and of use, to the people to whom they were spoken. But humanity, which is ever moving forward in religious ideas as in other matters, has long since outgrown them, and left them, as cast-off garments, far behind on its path. “Hebraism, Heathenism, Christianism are places where man halted in his march towards the promised land, encampments on his pilgrimage.
1. Discourse of Religion, pp. 444, 449. 2 Experience as a Minister (Boston, 1859), p. 37. 3 Discourse of Religion, p. 111.
The Old Testament long since
He rests a while, then God says to him, Long enough hast thou compassed this mountain ; turn and take thy journey forward. Lo! the land of promise is still before thee.” 1 As to the nature of this religious progress, our author does not leave us in doubt. It is an endless “ becoming,” a continuous unfolding of the absolute religion in new and better forms. It delivers evermore from the power of the past, and from all authority external to the soul itself. The present emphasis of each man's religious consciousness is his guide for the time being. In that he learns to trust, and to reject every other oracle, as he grows truly wise concerning his own faculties and destiny. “ There must be a better form of religion,” he says.
6 It must be free, and welcome the highest, the proudest, and the widest thought." 2 Whoever seeks this nobler form “bows to no idols, neither mammon, nor the church, nor the Bible, nor yet Jesus. Its redeemer is within, its salvation, and its heaven and oracle of God." 3 • Protestantism delivers us from the tyranny of the church, and carries us back to
the Bible. Biblical criticism frees us from the His idea of thraldom of the Scriptures, and brings us to the progress.
authority of Jesus. Philosophical spiritualism liberates us from all personal and finite authority, and restores us to God, the primeval fountain.” 4
Not only, therefore, is the true God impersonal, according to Parker, but the gospel of Christ, and all the forms of Christianity, are each a despotism, whose sway the human soul rejects, upon coming to a clear knowledge of its own inherent nature,
1 Sermons of Theism (Boston, Little & Brown, 1856), Introd., p. 74. 2 Ibid., p. 72. 3 Discourse of Religion, p. 446. 4 Ibid., p. 449.
Having seen what Parker denies on religious subjects, let us, in the second place, see what he tive side of undertakes to affirm. I have said that he calls his doctrine the Absolute Religion, Spiritualism, or Philosophical Spiritualism. The first of these designations is that by which his more distinctive views are best known. In some of his later writings, however, the word “ theism” seems to be preferred; and he to designate strongly insists that the speculation thus named is something quite other than deism, pantheism, or atheism. Indeed, he labors so hard and often to make out this distinction, that we suspect it was not clear to the minds of his friends, even if he himself had no doubt of its reality. The terms he chose by which to designate his views show that he was ambitious of originality, though the views themselves are in almost no sense original. It is in forms of expression, not in essence of doctrine, that he is unlike some of those from whom he
original claims to differ. He was unwilling to call any supposed. one master, even while freely appropriating the opinions of others. Whether he really believed himself to be the founder of a new religion or not, that was evidently the high character and office to which he aspired, and which he labored all his life long to show that he had attained. But it will appear, I think, that he was not as successful as he thought himself to be; that in large part, unconsciously perhaps, he was a disciple of other men; that even where he most stoutly asserts his independence and originality, he is not the central sun, but rather a secondary orb, in the system to which he belongs. I shall hope to give an intelligible, though condensed statement