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“ In an age
and speaking out, from the depths of his own broad and living nature, great moral truths demanded by, and responding to, man's universal moral and religious sentiments, - in a word, a sort of Theodore Parker of the first century, minus Theodore Parker's learning and philosophy.
It were easy to confirm all this by extracts taken at random from the writings of leading Transcendentalists. Take the following from Mr. Parker.
corruption, as all ages are, Jesus stood and looked up to God. There was nothing between him and the Father of all: no old world, be it of Moses or Esaias, of a living rabbi or Sanhedrim of rabbis : no sin or perverseness of the finite will. As the result of this virgin purity of soul and perfect obedience, the light of God shone down into the very deeps of his soul, bringing all of the Godhead which flesh can receive. He would have us do the same; worship with nothing between us and God; act, think, feel, live, in perfect obedience to Him: and we never are Christians as he was the Christ, until we worship as Jesus did, with no mediator, with nothing between us and the Father of all.” Critical and Miscellaneous Writings, pp. 161, 162.
“His life (the life of Jesus) is the perpetual rebuke of all times since. It condemns ancient civilization; it condemns modern civilization. Wise men we have since had, and good men; but this Galilean youth strode before the world whole thousands of years, much of Divinity was in him..... In him the Godlike and the Human met and embraced, and a Divine Life was born. Measure him by the world's greatest sons, - how poor they are !
Try him by the best of men, how little and low they appear!.
But still was he not our brother; the son of man, as we are; the Son of God like ourselves ? His excellence, was it not human excellence ? His wisdom, love, piety, — sweet and celestial as they were, they not what we also may attain?” — 16. p. 157.
“Amid all this (Jewish corruption, sin, prejudice, and formalism], and the opposition it raised to a spiritual man, Jesus fell back on the moral and religious sentiments in man; uttered their oracles as the Infinite spoke through them; taught absolute religion, absolute morality, — nothing less, nothing more ; laid down principles as wide as the soul, true and eternal as God.” – Discourse, pp. 256, 257.
“Jesus looked to God for his truth; his great doctrines not his own, - private, personal, depending on his own idiosyncrasies, and therefore only subjectively true, - but God's, universal, everlasting,
the Absolute Religion. I do not know that he did not teach some errors, also, along with it. I care not if he did. It is by his truths that I know him, the absolute religion he taught and lived." - Re
lation, fc., p. 14.
Here the excellence of the character of Jesus is plainly said to be Divine, and formally declared to be human, and attainable by us all: which proves, that, in Mr. Parker's view, the human and Divine are one and the same. The same conclusion is obtained from the account which Mr. Parker gives of the source whence Jesus Christ drew his doctrines. At one time, we are told “he looked up to God alone,” " looked to God for his truth”; at another, that “ he fell back on the moral and religious sentiments in man.” Evidently, in Mr. Parker's view, looking to God and falling back on the moral and religious sentiments in man are one and the same thing. Hence, since man's moral and religious sentiments are integral in man, God and man must be, at bottom, identical. This is still farther evident, from Mr. Parker's assertion, (Discourse, p. 280) that we verify the truth of Christianity in our soul, because “the pure water of life must come from the well of God”; which, at least, implies, if not that the soul and God are absolutely identical, “ the well of God,” that is, the fountain of life, is in the soul and identical with it.
According to Mr. Parker, Jesus drew his doctrines from the moral and religious sentiments of human nature. It was “their oracles he uttered," and it was through them “the Infinite spoke" to him, revealing to him “absolute religion, absolute morality,” “principles wide as the soul, true and eternal as God.” This implies that the source whence all truth needed may be drawn is human nature ; and no revelation, not made in and through our moral and religious sentiments, is needed. Stripped of its new and gorgeous apparel, what is this but the old Deistical doctrine of the sufficiency of the light of nature? In plain terms, Mr. Parker's doctrine, then, is, Jesus discarded all the pretended supernatural revelations in which his age and country believed, fell back on human nature, consulted his own soul, and declared what he by the simple light of nature discovered, or believed he discovered, to be true. The light of nature was enough for him ; it is enough for us. Not a remarkably novel doctrine, and one which the old English Deists have set forth with more ability, sound sense, and blunt honesty of purpose, than we find in the writings of our modern Transcendentalists.
But if nature be sufficient, since we bave nature always, how happens it that there is such a contrariety of beliefs in the world, and that such gross and lamentable errors everywhere prevail? If nature be sufficient, it must be sufficient in all and in each. How explain the fact, then, that it does not preserve all and each from error? If not sufficient to preserve from error, how can it suffice to recover us from error, and sustain us in the truth hereafter ? Nature is always the same. Mankind have had it from the first, and all it can give of itself alone,- for it can give only itself, — and yet, according to Mr. Parker himself, they have scarcely gone right for a single moment, in a single particular. What assurance can he give us, if reduced to nature alone, that we shall succeed any better hereafter ?
Mr. Parker teaches us that the revelation of truth is the result of virgin purity of soul and perfect obedience. But how, without truth, without the light of God, is this virgin purity of soul, this perfect obedience, to be obtained ? Before charity, we had supposed, goes faith ; and we know not how there can
1 be faith where the truth has not been propounded to the understanding. “Do the truth and you shall know the truth” is unquestionably true in its proper sense ; but we can not do the truth without willing to do it, and to will that which is not intellectually apprehended is impossible. Mr. Parker not unfrequently gets the cart before the horse. His notion is, Jesus was a very good man, and therefore God inspired him. Hence, he insers, if we are only good, God will inspire us in like manner ; as if the inspirations of Almighty God, and the revelation of truth, were not necessary as the condition of becoming
Mr. Parker denies the necessity of a mediator, and calls upon us to approach the Infinite One face to face. Jesus, he says, looked to God, with nothing between him and the Father of all; so should we: The damning sin of the race is, that they have not done so. “ We dare not,” he says, (Discourse, p. 5, “approach the Infinite One face to face; we whine and whimper in our brother's name, as if we could only appear before the Omnipresent by attorney” ; and yet this same man, who talks so flippantly of looking the Infinite in the face, would be sadly puzzled to see his own nose, or the pen with which he writes his blasphemy, without that officious attorney called light. Does he mean to assert, that man can, while in the flesh, see God otherwise than as reflected in his works, that is, his works of creation, providence, and grace? If so, will he give some better proof than his own word of what all the world know to be impudently false? No man has seen God at any time, or can see him and live. Even the heathens, by their fable of Semele, might have taught Mr. Parker as much as that.
Mr. Parker makes it an objection to Christian theology that it promises eternal life as a gift. “ Its heaven is a place no man has a right to. Would a good man willingly accept of what is not his ?
for it?" Ib. p. 6. So it belittles a man to receive eternal life as a gift from God! We must earn a right to it by our own stout hearts and strong arms. When did Mr. Parker earn his right to this present life? Does it not belittle him to breathe, since his breath is a gift of God, to which he had, has, and can have no claim of his own?
But these are trifles. Jesus, he tells us, taught absolute religion, absolute morality; and he thinks, and his friends think, that in this he has done great honor to the “ Galilean youth, and laid the Christian world under heavy obligations to him for his condescension. Mr. Parker asserts this, time and again. Jesus is the greatest person of the ages, the proudest achievement of the human race, because he taught absolute religion. Relation, &c., p. 17. But is this so certain ? Whether Jesus did teach absolute religion, he tells us, (Discourse, p. 243,) is very difficult to answer ; for it is no easy matter to decide what is Christianity, and no two men seem to be agreed as to what it is ; finally, such is the character of the records, that not much stress can be laid on them ; Ib. p. 249 ; and, after all, the question, whether this or that historical person did teach absolute religion is of small consequence to the race. Ib. 257.
The whole merit of Jesus consists in the fact that he taught absolute religion, - which, after all, is quite doubtful! But suppose he did teach absolute religion, does that imply any great merit on the part of Jesus ? " To ascertain what is absolute religion is no difficult matter. For religion is not an external thing like astronomy, to be learned only by long observation and the perfection of scientific instruments and algebraic processes; but something above all, inward and natural to man." - Ib. pp. 240, 241. Nothing very wonderful, then, that this " Galilean youth, who strode before the world whole thousands of years,” should have discovered and taught it, and especially, since it is, according to the whole tenor of your teaching, intuitively obvious to every man, woman, and child of the race. Mr. Parker would find it not amiss, when he wishes to say fine things of our blessed Saviour, to stop and ask whether his general notions of Christianity will sustain him in doing so. These eulogiums on Jesus which we meet in Mr. Parker's writings are exceedingly offensive to intelligent readers; for they are altogether too extravagant, assuming Jesus to be what Mr. Parker represents him, and shockingly irreverent, if Jesus be what Christians believe him to be. Yet we suspect he throws thein in to sustain his character before the blushing - no, not blushing - maidens of either sex who make up his public, , and to escape, if possible, the charge of absolute infidelity.
But, after all, what is this absolute religion, absolute morality, about which our prophet of the nineteenth century keeps up such an unceasing sing-song? From the phrase itself, and the emphasis with which it is pronounced, the innocent reader is fain to imagine that it means something, and something of the last importance. What, then, is it? The answer in brief is : Be good and do good, and you will — be good and do
good. Vary the phrase as you will
, mystify the subject as you please, this is the whole sum and substance of what Mr. Parker means by absolute religion. Although he may call it “ Perfect obedience to the law of God," - Love to God and to man,” “ Absolute goodness,” or by various other names.
Absolute religion may also be defined, according to Mr. Parker, to be the fulfilment of the law of nature. " The law of God,” he tells us in many places, is the law which “ God wrote in man's nature,” and is the law revealed by our natural, moral, and religious sentiments. To be good and to do good,
. then, according to him, will be to be in harmony with this law, and to obey all its precepts. Now, we demand proof that the fulfilment of the law of nature is absolute religion, all that God demands of us. " Absolute religion,” he says, “is perfect obedience to the law of God, perfect love towards God and man, exhibiting itself in a life allowing and demanding a harmonious action of all man's faculties. Discourse, p. 241. Here it is evident that the harmonious action of all man's faculties, so far as they act at all, is the fulfilment of the law of God, and all that Mr. Parker means by perfect love to God and man.
Is this enough ? Mr. Parker says it is. On what authority? On his own intuitions ? But the belief of all the world, the best evidence the nature of the case admits of what are their intuitions, is against him; and why are we bound to credit his intuitions against theirs? Is he infallible? How does he know that God has not made us subject to a law above our nature, and which we cannot fulfil by our natural strength, and therefore not without Divine grace supernaturally infused, or shed abroad in our hearts ? Christian faith is here against him; on what authority does he presume to set that faith aside? On the authority of intuition? But the fact, that the Christian