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THE winter of 1844–5, will be a marked period in the history of Liberal Christianity in Boston and this country. It will be as the year of the Hegira to the followers of the prophet, whether with as happy an issue we do not presume to say. We are certain of this ; that the events which have occurred ; the principles which these events have illustrated and tested; and the discussions which have turned upon them, are all memorable and likely to be remembered. Our readers will not be surprised or displeased, we think, that we again invite their attention to Mr. Parker and his brethren of the Liberal School.
Mr. Parker's South Boston sermon, “On the Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” it will be remembered was preached May 19, 1841. The “Discourse of Religion,” &c., was delivered as a series of lectures, the following autumn and winter and afterwards published in a volume. The sensation which
* A Letter to the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers, touching certain matters of their Theolo By Theodore Parker, Minister of the second Church in Roxbury. Boston, C. C. Little & J. C. Brown. 1845.
they excited was not inconsiderable. The community of Boston and vicinity, both evangelical and liberal, was not a little aroused. Reviews and newspaper critiques were for a time numerous, concerning Mr. Parker and his opinions. The Boston Association also, of which Mr. P. is a member, after some delay took the matter in hand, and expressed their disapprobation of his opinions in ways sufficiently significant, and by no means the most agreeable. The storm which was raised, had gradually lulled into a calm previously to the last autumn. Mr. Parker had gone to Germany for a few months, and from which it is said the unclean spirit which possessed him first came. Perhaps it was hoped, that he would there in some of its dry places, seek and find rest. But he returned, and though we do not affirm that he brought with him seven other spirits, we are quite confident, that if he had, he could not have brought a more disturbing presence, or raised a mightier storm. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 1844, Mr. Parker exchanged pulpits with Rev. Mr. Sargent, a member of the Boston Association, and minister at large attached to the Suffolk Chapel, which is under the care of the Benevolent Fraternity of churches. The Executive Committee of this Fraternity immediately took the subject into consideration, addressed a communication to the ministers at large, “expressive of their views in relation to Mr. Parker, and of the grounds upon which his admittance to the pulpits of the Fraternity was not to be desired.” In other words Mr. Sargent was made to understand, after a very gentle fashion indeed, but in a manner sufficiently decided, that the thing was not to happen a second time. To this Mr. Sargent replied, declining to give any pledges as to his future course, and tendering his resignation. This was accepted by the committee with many expressions of regret and some delay. Mr. Waterston another of the ministers at large, and we believe, at that time the only one beside, also replied by a letter, in which he warmly and earnestly acceded to and adopted the views of the committee. Upon this commenced the storm. Mr. Sargent the Sunday following his resignation, preached a sermon on “Obstacles to the Truth,” to a large audience in the Hollis street meeting house. This sermon was immediately published. The month following, another event occurred which did not tend to allay the agitation. On the 26th of December, Mr. Parker preached “the Thursday Lecture” to a full and attentive audience. This he did, not by invitation, as may well be guessed, but in his turn, by his right as a member of the Boston Association. It was remarked by the reporters for the press, that he was alone in the pulpit. The sermon was speedily printed. Its theme and title were “The Relation of Jesus to this Age and the Ages.” It is a brief but decided expression of his views of historical Christianity and the Gospel narrative, differing not at all from those which he had be.
fore expressed and published. The style is perhaps more luxuriant in its beauty, and the application to Mr. Parker's opponents, more pointed and offensive. A few weeks after, it was announced, that the Boston Association had surrendered the care of “the Thursday Lecture” to the minister of the first church. Jan. 5, 1845. The Executive Committee of the Benevolent Fraternity made their quarterly report, in which they recited their proceedings in the case of Mr. Sargent, with the letters of Messrs. Sargent and Waterston. The meeting of the Fraternity was full; the proceedings were approved by a formal vote, two voices dissenting, and the report was ordered to be printed. This brought the matter in review before the community of Liberal Christians, and it was earnestly discussed in private and through the press. While the excitement was fresh, the Sunday following, (Jan. 12,) Rev. J. F. Clarke, pastor of “the Church of Disciples,” preached a sermon in which he explained to his congregation, that he was impelled in this crisis of affairs, to show by action his own principles in respect to the question of ministerial fellowship now before the churches; and had decided in consequence to exchange with Mr. Parker the second Sunday succeeding. Mr. Clarke, it may be proper to say here, is the farthest possible from adopting Mr. Parker's peculiar views; and “the Church of the Disciples,” though based on “the largest liberty,” in respect to theological opinions, as conditions of membership, was constituted expressly to realize and promote a higher style of religious life. Its maxims and ways are many of them such as we greatly like. It represents in the Unitarian body the evangelical or Methodist movement, and is the church of “Revivals and Prayer Meetings.” The announcement by Mr. Clarke was received by many of his church with regret and disapprobation. During the weeks intervening, there was abundance of conference and discussion; meetings large and small were held, to induce the pastor to recede from his position, but without success. On Sunday, (Jan. 26,) the exchange took place. A large minority of the church did not attend the service, nor hear Mr. Parker, but withdrew to Amory Hall, and held separate worship. The sermon preached by Mr. Parker, “On the Excellency of Goodness,” was published. So also the proceedings of the Church of the Disciples, in respect to the exchange, with a history of the discussions and opinions expressed in them, was given to the public in “the Christian World,” followed by several communications from Mr. Clarke, explaining and defending the ground he had taken. The minority of the church were soon organized into a separate society, under the name of “the Church of the Savior,” and the pastoral care of Rev. Mr. Waterston. The discussions in the Liberal ranks become more and more earnest. “The Christian Register,” the ancient organ of the denomination, takes its ground with the coolness and self-complacence that becomes an establishment so aristocratic and conservative, with a moderate infusion of contempt for Mr. Parker and his friends, while “the Christian Herald,” kindles into a martyr-spirit in anticipation of “the Baptism of Fire,” to which the churches might be called for the defense of the faith and in the cause and name of a living and real Savior. On the one side a pamphlet is issued, short and pithy, consisting of brief “questions addressed to Rev. Theodore Parker and his friends,” which would be all well and to the point, from any but a Liberal Christian. On the other side appears, “The true Position of Rev. Theodore Parker,” which is quite as significant on its side of the question,
and quite as searching in the truths which it sends home to the exclusive party. Rev. Mr. Furness of Phila. delphia, hearing the strife at a distance, interposes his mediation from “the city of brotherly love,” in two sermons “On Christian Union and the Truth of the Gospels,” in which he is simple or honest enough to charge upon his Boston brethren, a dereliction from their ancient principles. “Hitherto,” says he, “the contest of liberal Christianity has been with orthodoxy, and Unitarians have been the asseriors of freedom of conscience and inquiry and Christian charity, and in the ardor of our liberality, we have insisted over and over again, that whether a man believe in the trinity or unity of God, whether he receive the tenets of the orthodox faith or reject them, is a small matter, if he only has a free, honest, charitable temper. We have taken up the noble doctrine of the apostle, and declared that without a charitable spirit a man is nothing, though he have all faith so that he could remove mountains, and that with Jar: ity he is all, whatever may be the errors of his understanding.” Mr. Furness's interference, and aboveal with such a confession, seems not.” have been the most acceptable to the conservative Bostonians. Meanwhile, as we should expect, the Unitarian clergy, each in their several pulpits, preach with grea" or less directness, on the subject $9 generally interesting to the deno” nation, “shall we adopt the exclusive principle.” Some of these so mons are published. Dr. Frotho. ham of the first church, prints four discourses under the significan title, “Deism or Christianity,” as though this were the question before the denomination. He names ho . mons thus—“Evidence, Creed, the Difference, the Warning, o which we conclude, that he ho o: Carlyle and Emerson. In " mon of “the Creed,” he thus *
clares the conclusion of the whole matter, “Let us have a belief, therefore. How can we otherwise have any portion in the believer's rest and hope 2 Let us have a creed also. For how else can we tell or know what we believe Only let it be held with humility, and seriousness, and charity. We need not ask too curiously how much there is of it, nor of what precise kind it is.” “Let it be as simple as it will, and as unincumbered and as large in spirit. Only give it some existence. Allow it place. Do not cast out its name as evil on account of the mischiefs that have sprung up by the side of it, and the hypocrisies to which it has been made to minister. Let it have a hand that can write. Let it have a tongue that can speak. Let it have something, however short, that it is willing to abide by.” On the opposite side, Rev. Wm. Ware of West Cambridge, the author of “Zenobia” and “Proteus,” gives to the public two sermons, entitled “Righteousness before Doctrine,” with the text, “Forbid him not, for he that is not against us, is for us.” Into the field thus occupied by lighter troops, the Christian Examiner leads on its heavier force with becoming dignity. The elaborate article in the March number of that Journal, is able, fair and conciliatory, and takes the best position in respect to “Mr. Parker and his views,” which could be taken by a liberal Christian, who understands himself and the interests of the denomination. And no liberal Christian, we presume none, does understand himself and the interests of his denomination more perfectly than does the writer of that article. Of Mr. Parker he says, adopting a just distinction between the spiritual truths and the historical facts of revelation, “We do not understand that he denies the Christian truths. On the contrary, he both recognizes and insists on them, makes them
prominent and authoritative and calls for faith in them, as just and essential to the true life. So far as they are concerned, he whose course has given so much pain to his brethren, is a Christian believer; and so far as the inculcation of these truths is concerned, he is most certainly a Christian teacher.” . . . . “So far as faith in the supernatural mission of Christ, or in the historical record of his life is concerned, Mr. Parker is not a Christian believer.” This article was followed by Remarks on an article, &c. Besides the publications which we have noticed, one or two others have appeared which we have not seen.
But the most remarkable publication, elicited by this discussion, is the “Letter to the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers, touching certain matters of their theology,” by Theodore Parker. This is dated, March 20th, 1845, and is one of the last of the many pamphlets issued, but not one of the least in its significance. It is not very long, but quite long enough to satisfy the Boston Association. It is not very difficult to be understood, but rather more so to be digested, especially by those for whom the morceau was prepared. It is not very logical in its form and method, but its aim can not be shunned nor its force broken. It is withal somewhat tartly written, but it comes from one, in whom reverence for the authority of men and names is not the most largely developed, and perhaps on whom it has not been the most faithfully inculcated. There is too an air of mischief about it, if not of boyish roguery—but perhaps it is only that of one who knows his advantage and means to use it, courteously, indeed, as becomes one who has been trained in a school in which courtesy is a prime virtue, and yet strongly, as we Calvinists should expect from him with our views of human nature. We give a few extracts.
“Gentlemen—The peculiar circumstances of the last few years have placed both you and me in new relations to the ublic and to one another. " " You have am told, at great length, and in several consecutive meetings, discussed the subject of my connection with your reverend ody; you have debated the matter whether you should expel me for heresy, and by a circuitous movement, recently made, have actually excluded me from reaching the Thursday lecture. * * * Jntil recently the Unitarians have been supposed to form the advance guard, so to say, of the church militant; at least they have actually been the movement party in Theology. As such. the Unitarians have done a great work. As I understand the matter, this work was in part intellectual, but in a greater part moral, for they declared, either directly or by implication, the right of each man to investigate for himself in matters pertaining to religion, and his right also to the Christian name if he claimed it, and his character seemed to deserve it. They called themselves liberal Christians, and seemed to consider that he was the best Christian who was most like Christ in character and life, thus making religion the essential of Christianity, and leaving each man to determine his own theology. * * * The Unitarians have no recognized and public creed. It used to be their glory. At the Theological School in Cambridge I subscribed no symbolical books; at my ordination, I assented to no form of doctrines,-neither church nor council requesting it. When I became a member of your learned body, no one asked me of my opinion; whether orthodox or heterodox. * * * I have no wish to disguise Iny theology, nor shelter it beneath the authority of your Association. Let it stand or fall by itself. But still I do not know that l have transgressed the limits of Unitarianism, for I do not know what these limits are. It is a great glory to a liberal association, to have no symbolical books, but a great inconvenience that a sect, becoming exclusive should not declare its creed. I can not utter the shibboleth of a party till I first hear it pronounced in the orthodox way. “As you have had the field of controversy entirely to yourselves these several years, and as yet have not, as a body, made a public and authorized statement of our theological belief, I must beg you to inform me what is orthodoxy according to the Boston Association. The orthodoxy of the Catholic church I know very well; I am not wholly ignorant of what is called orthodoxy by the Lutheran and Calvinistic churches; but the ORT Hodoxy of the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers is not a thing so easy to come at. As I try to comprehend it, I feel I am looking at something dim and
He then addressed to them a series of “scholastic and dogmatic questions, &c.” These all relate to the authority and inspiration of the Old and New Testaments and the connection between right views of these points, and the claim to salvation and the Christian name. Some of these questions contemplate views of these points that are extravagant and false, which they first caricature and then ridicule. Of these views we have only to say, that the falsehood is a fair mark for the shaft, and we speed it home to that, only desiring that the falsehood may not be mistaken for the truth. Others there are, which bring out opinions that are held by leading Unitarian divines and perhaps by some of the Boston Association, and have an important bearing upon the question at issue between Mr. Parker and that body. We give a few of these questions.
“1. What do you mean by the word salvation 2 2. What do you mean by a miracle 2 3. What do you mean by inspiration? 4. What do you mean by revelation? 7. What do you consider the essential doctrines of Christianity; what mo: ral and religious truth is taught by Christianity, that was wholly unknown to the human race before the time of Christ 2–and is there any doctrine of Christianity that is not a part also of natural religion ? Do you believe that all or any of the authors of the Old Testament were miraculously inspired, so that all or any of their language can properly be called the Word of God, and their writings constitute a miraculous revelation ?” &c. &c. (14 is a question to the same pur: port respecting the New Testament)
“10. Do you believe the law con