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associate of man, which, through the ever-deepening power of true Christian love, is becoming more and more the happy distinction of our age. Much that sounds harsh and unjust in Mr. Parker's language must be traced to his abhorrence of the blind, idolatrous Bible-worship of the churches. His sense of the monstrous errors which this has brought into Theology, and of the miserable uncharitableness with which it has infected all the intercourse of life, fills him with a hostility that knows no bounds; so that, in his zeal to demolish a stupid and grievous error, his heedless hand does not always spare things holy and tender associated with it. Yet he is never at heart irreverent. It would be unfair to judge of him by a few vehement passages in which his iconoclastic tendencies break forth. The occasions are innumerable on which he expresses in his own way his deep love of Christ and Christianity. How hearty and genuine is this passage !
“I reverence the Christian Church for the great good it has done for mankind ; I reverence the Mahometan Church for the good it has done,-a far less good. I reverence the Scriptures for every word of truth they teach ; and they are crowded with truth and beauty from end to end. Above all men do I bow my face before that august personage, Jesus of Nazareth, who seems to have had the strength of man and the softness of woman,--man’s mighty, wide-grasping, reasoning, calculating, and poetic mind; and woman's conscience, woman's heart, and woman's faith in God. He is my best historic ideal of human greatness; not without errors, not without the stain of his times, and, I presume, of course, not without sin ; for men without sins exist in the dreams of girls, not in real fact : you never saw such a one, nor I; and we never shall. But Jesus of Nazareth is my best historic ideal of a religious man, and revolutionises the vulgar conception of human greatness. What are your Cæsars, Alexanders, Cromwells, Napoleons, Bacons, and Leibnitz, and Kant, and Shakespeare, and Milton even,-men of immense brain and will,—what are they all to this person of large and delicate intellect, of a great conscience, and heart and soul far mightier yet?"*
In his Discourse there is a beautiful passage, full of earnestness and piety, about the Bible, which we regret that we have not space to extract, but which we are sure the reader will thank us for asking him to compare with the foregoing. +
The intense earnestness of Theodore Parker's mind, entirely possessed for the moment by the sense of some great evil which must at all hazards be demolished and swept away, leads him unconsciously into a onesidedness and partial injustice, which is as conspicuous in his judgment of men and institutions as in his dealings with opinions opposed to his own. He sees nothing but * Theism, Atheism, &c. p. 264,
† Discourse, &c. p. 302.
the error, and speaks accordingly. His condemnation of the churches and clergy of his country is sweeping and unqualified. We do not wonder that he should be regarded in some quarters as a hard and violent man,-simply destructive and dangerous. It must be confessed, he never spares the sore places where men are most sensitive; and that sometimes, in the vehemence of his hostility to wrong, he assumes undue merit to his personal efforts, and fails to render fair discriminative justice to others. His friend Dr. Edward Beecher once gave him a wise and faithful rebuke on this head.* Yet the evils which he combats are great and menacing, and demand a fearless voice like his to denounce and disperse them. He entered life with a perfect faith in God and Truth-with a religious conviction, that only in Justice and Freedom, and the intrepid admission of unchecked progress in all the directions of human thought and action, could the foundations of his country's greatness and prosperity be securely laid. But when he came into contact with men and things as they are, he found access to the all-perfect God, and to the only true Religion, obstructed by a scrupulous and timid Scripturalism, which crushed instead of nourishing the spiritual life; and the practical agency of the churches not employed in extending and strengthening, and consistently realising, the great principle of human brotherhood, but limited to narrow sectarian ends, hemmed in by the prejudices and interests of the moneyed classes, and palliating, instead of condemning and opposing, the great national sin of Slavery. In Theology and in the Church he saw a hindrance, rather than a help, to human advancement. His manly, straightforward nature could not brook what he regarded as dishonest compromise in all the great transactions of Society. He abhorred the prevalent want of consequentiality and thoroughness in the carrying out of principles distinctly avowed. There was constant talk of Freedom, without its fruits; and a great profession of Protestantism, without working out any of its legitimate results. Hence the indignant scorn with which he overwhelms the divines and preachers of his day, in language honest as his own heart, but often indiscriminate, and sometimes unjust. He complains particularly of the Unitarians as a class for not going along with himself in the fearless and consequential application of principles which he had imbibed from them, his earliest instructors; for their inquiring freely up to a certain point, and then arbitrarily stopping short; for their acknowledging and denying in the same breath an outward authority in Scripture,
In an article inserted in the Commonwealth. Parker, with characteristic nobleness, printed this censure on himself entire in a note to his sermon entitled " The New Crime against Humanity," published in the second volume of Additional Speeches, Addresses, fc. p. 122.
on no conceivable principle but the demands of their own doctrinal system; for their occupation of an unjustifiable middle position between the servile followers of the Letter on one hand, and those who throw themselves frankly on the free Spirit of God on the other. He draws a disparaging comparison between the state of hopeful and fearless aspiration which sprang up in his youth, when the Spirit of Free Inquiry first awoke under the influence of Channing, and the cold reactionary conservatism which in his latter days had frozen up the genial current of spiritual life. His language on this subject is strong and condemnatory. But the fault may not be wholly on one side. He seems incapable of understanding minds differently constituted from his own. He judges other men by himself. He knows not what it is to doubt and to hesitate. He is essentially a dogmatist. All questions resolve themselves with him into a right and a wrong, a true and a false. When he has once made up his mind which is which, he goes to work as if no middle view, no intermediate course, were possible. All indecision and uncertainty seem to him, from that time forth, a positive dereliction of duty. He cannot conceive how men may proceed to a certain length in a course of inquiry and a course of action, and then, when all the consequences of further persisting in it open clearly before them, begin to be honestly apprehensive, and from inability to reconcile those consequences with the preservation of a truth which they feel to be inestimably precious, may be impelled conscientiously to retrace some of their later steps, and be thrown back into the ranks of conservatism. Such men can
never be reformers. They are deficient in what we call nerve. Possibly there may be too large an infusion of prudence and caution in their mental temperament. But, like Erasmus at the era of the Reformation, they are not necessarily wanting either in probity or in intelligence: nay, they may often see mischiefs and perils ahead, which the more sanguine and impetuous overlook; and, however for the time they may be scorned and slighted by the movement-party, the dead-weight of their fears and their prejudices sometimes affords a seasonable counterpoise to the impetus of sweeping innovation. With regard to speculative truth, men of a positive cast of mind often fail to perceive that inability to decide, where there really is an equilibrium of reasons, is the state of mind most truly corresponding to the extant evidence, and most befitting the spirit of a philosopher. An ardent, practical character can hardly comprehend this. It suspects want of honesty, when there may be only want of insight or of a clear conviction of duty. Theodore Parker is never intentionally unjust. The generous humanity of his nature continually interposes an exculpatory word or two amidst his harshest judgments. In fact, two natures seem constantly battling within him, the stern reformer, unyielding and inexorable, and the simple man, sweet and gentle at heart, imbued with all a brother's tenderness and compassion for his brother man.
There are many beautiful passages, full of this merciful and condoning spirit, even in works where he exercises with rigid severity the functions of a judge. We know nothing in its way more pathetic and touching than the concessions with which he softens the
peroration of that terrible Móryos érr LTáblos once pronounced by him over the fallen Webster.*
We have desired to state without reserve, in the foregoing observations, what we think defective and mistaken in the opinions, and objectionable in the language, of Theodore Parker, lest it should be supposed that our hearty admiration of him proceeded from a blind adoption of all his views, and an insensibility to some marked imperfections of character and intellect. Granting all these, we do not hesitate to pronounce him one of the noblest of living men, and one of the truest reformers that God has raised up in our age for the rebuke of theological errors and the redress of social ills. His works are a vivid impress of the man, traversed in every direction by a rich vein of genuine poetry, and glowing with the native light of a fervid Christian piety. We wish that we had room to substantiate our assertion by copious citations. A very few must suffice as a speci
We take them just as they offer themselves at this moment to our recollection, How beautiful is this thought of Death! how full of truthful, loving faith, though clothed in his peculiar phraseology!
“Men talk of death, and say it is a dreadful thing to come into the presence of the Living God. Are we not always in thy presence, O Living Father? Are not these flowers thy gift? And when I blossom out of the body, and the husks of the flesh drop away, is it a dreadful thing to come into thy presence, O Living God ?—to be taken to the arms of the mother who bore me ?”+
What a depth of religious feeling there is in the close of the first of the Four Sermons preached to Progressive Friends!
“All around us lies the world of matter, this vast world above us, and about us, and beneath : it proclaims the God of Nature ; flower speaking unto flower, star quivering unto star, a God who is resident therein, his law never broke. In us is a world of consciousness; and as that mirror is made clearer by civilisation, I look down and behold the Natural Idea of God, Infinite Cause and Providence, Father and Mother to all that are. Into our reverent souls God will come as the morning light into the bosom of the opening rose. Just in proportion as we are faithful, we shall be inspired therewith, and shall frame .con
* Printed in the 1st vol. of Additional Speeches, fc. | Theism, Atheism, &c. p. 86.
ceptions equal to the soul's desires,' and then in our practice keep those ' heights which the soul is competent to win.” We have
space for only one more extract. "Religion—that will not fade out of the human heart : sooner shall yonder sun, which those clouds only hide, fade out of heaven. No! With every advance of man, religion shines brighter and brighter, leading onward to its perfect day. Out of this chaos of theology how beautifully comes up the manly, and mild, and trusting faith of Jesus of Nazareth! Far off, severed from us by two thousand years of time and five thousand miles of space, we see him with his beatitudes, his parable of the Good Samaritan, of the Father who went after his prodigal son, having more joy in his heaven over the one sinner that repented than over the ninety-and-nine that never went astray. How beautifully comes up that young Nazarene, proclaiming the one religion,-love to the Father, and love to the Son—to man here on earth, for mankind is the Son of God !
Coming out of the popular theology, I feel as one who has wandered long in some dark, subterranean, mammoth cave, where the sound of running water was thunderous and sad— lit by uncertain torches, led by wandering guides-- where lifeless stones grinned as horrible monsters at him, and he hesitated and stumbled at every step —where the air was contaminated by the smoke of the torches, and his steps faltered and his heart sank. I feel as one coming out into the glad light of day, where the sky is blue over me, and the sun sheds down its golden light, and the ground is green with grass, and is beautiful with summer or with autumn flowers, fragrant to every sense.
God be thanked, that we leave the cavern behind us, with its smoky lights, its paths that lead to wandering : that God's heaven is over us, and his ground is under our feet, his eternity is before us, and his Spirit in our spirit.”
Disowned by the majority of his clerical brethren, and excluded from their pulpits, Mr. Parker has availed himself of this involuntary extrication from the trammels of professional etiquette to adopt in his sermons a style of singular boldness and originality. He never sacrifices strength to grace or taste; and if a word or a phrase is likely to prove effective, he never scruples to use it, however rough and startling it may sound. But his intense earnestness, and a deep indwelling soul of beauty and tenderness, are irresistibly attractive, despite all violations of conventional decorum. In his sermons he tells stories, introduces characters with odd names and imaginary conversations, and describes scenes from nature and common life with all the freedom, and not rarely with the picturesque power, of a novelist
. Old Latimer himself could not more familiarly discourse with his audience. In denouncing the dark and terrible dogmas of the Calvinistic system, he does not shrink from the harshest and
Theism, Atheism, &c. p. 101.