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"There is such a thing as being slaves to our own past good impres sions. I think perfection lies in a present power over ourselves, in a superiority to what is good as well as evil in our past course, in acting from a fresh present energy. Few of us attain this. Most good men turn their benevolent objects into hobby-horses, and ride them most furiously; or rather are hurried on by them passively, unresistingly. Such is the weakness of our nature. Our tendency is to slavery. The difference is, that some are the slaves of good, others of bad impulses. That blessed freedom in which we govern ourselves according to our ever-improving and daily changing perceptions of right is an eminence to which we slowly rise."
And even in his purely intellectual capacity, the most characteristic touches are those of a mind which has checked itself half way, in order to note the course of an impulse, and record its peculiarity. "I would avoid," he says, in the course of an unhealthy list of regulations as to his inward self-government,"I would avoid the diffuseness which characterises anger." The deliberate respect which he entertained, however, for this conscious self-government, and which induced him to denounce, most wisely, those "religious revivals" which "overwhelm the mind with foreign influences, and strip it of all self-direction," led him into a self-scrutinising habit of mind that never did any man any good. Like many other theologians, he had, at least in early years, no faith that God could show him his sins unless he went through the most worrying catechetical process to find them
He tried every test that spiritual chemistry could suggest to discover traces of sin. "Have my thoughts this day been governed, my attention concentrated? what have I learned? what has constituted my chief pleasure? have I been humble? have I had peace?" &c.; painfully showing that he did not then believe that the "word of God was quick and powerful as any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit." He did not wait for the secret uneasiness that is the work of God; but thought that, even "if our hearts condemn us not," conscience might be cross-examined till she gave up her secret. Channing was too little of a quietist. He writes at times as if he thought that "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" was wrung forth by human will. "Force of moral purpose," he says, "makes us happy. There is an exhilaration, a hope, a joy, springing up within us when we will with power what we see to be good, when we are conscious of treading under foot the low principles and interests which would part us from God and duty." Is not this rather the imaginative will of the ideal conflict, the joyous will of the poet conceiving vanquished Satans, than of the practical man sorrowfully beating them? Generally speaking, the Mephistopheles is not very skil
ful and formidable whom it is an "exhilarating" process to beat. Perhaps the less splash and effort the will makes in these conflicts, the more it does. If it declines to entertain evil, it has done its work; the good that enters and occupies instead is not its own.
It is clear, that neither on its stronger nor on its weaker side is this high doctrine of self-regulation,-this horror of any concession of the command of the mind, even for the shortest interval, to any power except deliberate free-will, likely to be an element in a strong social faith. Channing's fear and hatred of "epidemic religion," his fixed belief that "all strong passion has the effect of insanity on the judgment," were not the characteristics of a man who would regard social power and influence as in any way a primary test of truth. Still less was his positive teaching as to minute and constant self-culture, his high estimate of spiritual endeavour even in the least practical sphere of life, his early tendency to inculcate morbid self-regulation, likely to draw a religious society into much closer union. A common life must be the ground of close social union. Channing's teaching tended to make each man conscious of his own individuality -alike in its noblest and its most painful phases-more and more profoundly. He spoke of spiritual life too much as an aspiration, too little as a reality. He sometimes made men feel the infinite distance between themselves and God-the spiritual immensity across which the poor human will must cheerfully work its way-more keenly than the power which, if they would but recognise it, already worked in them. His was often the teaching of want; the aim was distant, the way was long, and for each man solitary. Even the fact of God's help had to be painfully realised by an effort of thought. He is apt rather to tell men what they ought to feel on the hypothesis of religion, than to explain to them what they do feel in the light of religious certainties. The "thought of God" frequently takes the place in his writings of God. Of course this is often the state of any sincere man's mind. But realities, not thoughts of realities, are the basis of all union; facts, not hopes. And Channing, by the ideal cast which he teaches us to give to every spiritual influence that acts on the mind,-keeping it at arm's length till we have weighed and estimated its value,-often turns a certainty into an aspiration. We know how easy it is to doubt the existence even of the material universe, if we will not follow our first instinct to assume it, but begin instead to discuss what value we are to attach to our impressions; and it is certainly not less easy to turn spiritual realities into shadows or mere foretastes of the future, by holding aloof from the influence they bring.
But Channing's high value for individuality not only implied
a latent distrust of social influence; he expressly teaches that society is valuable only as subsidiary to the spiritual life it cherishes in individuals.
"Society is chiefly important as it ministers to and calls forth intellectual and moral energy and freedom. Its action on the individual is beneficial in proportion as it awakens in him a power to act on himself, and to control or withstand the social influences to which he is at first subjected. Society serves us, by furnishing objects, occasions, materials, excitements, through which the whole soul may be brought into vigorous exercise, may acquire a consciousness of its free and responsible nature, may become a law to itself, and may rise to the happiness and dignity of framing and improving itself without limit or end. Inward, creative energy is the highest good which accrues to us from our social principles and connections. The mind is enriched, not by what it passively receives from others, but by its own action on what it receives. We would especially affirm of virtue, that it does not consist in what we inherit, or what comes to us from abroad. It is of inward growth, and it grows by nothing so much as by resistance of foreign influences, by acting from our deliberate convictions in opposition to the principles of sympathy and imitation. According to these views, our social nature and connections are means. Inward power is the end; a power which is to triumph over, and control the influence of society."
This doctrine pieces-in with the whole temper of Channing's mind, which, as he himself was aware, was not social. Even the closest ties seemed scarcely to penetrate to this inner essence of his spirit, till they had been made the "materials and excitements" of spiritual contemplation. "I sometimes feel," he once said in allusion to his love for his children, "as if the affection which springs from thought were stronger than that of instinct." And all social ties were, in his view, intended rather to mature and refine special fruits in the soul of each,-to yield
"The harvest of a quiet eye
That sleeps and broods on its own heart,"
than to answer any end in themselves. A society was, in Channing's mind, never so perfect as when it exercised no characteristic or controlling influence of its own in swaying or moulding the minds of those who formed it. He held that sympathy, in the deeper concerns of the spirit, must generally be given in the dark, and received in the twilight. And as it never seemed to cross him that a society's faith, if noble at all, is a higher and better, and moreover quite different thing from the sum of the individual faiths it contains, he had no standard by which to try the value of society except that of the effect which it produced on individual character. He would have said with the poet :
"Is it strange
That our diviner impulses, great thoughts,
To bend our love unto his Father's breast,
As children than as brothers."
We are greater
And this was Dr. Channing's constant creed; not that he would have held it in any sense depreciative of the moral dignity and independence of human will, but simply in this, that the ultimate and deepest religious life of man cannot include any human sympathy and social unity,—that it is in a depth below the deepest life of society, and is a direct act of duty or love to the Father of spirits. This faith underlay all Channing's writings. But is it true? Is it given to human spirits to be children at all without being also brothers? The law of society is written on the individual conscience; and spiritual life is not possible to individuals at all if you strike out the social conditions under which it is invariably found. Indeed, truth itself, the search for which is usually supposed to isolate the mind, is truth no longer if you erase the conditions of society. We perceive all complete and perfect truth through others more than through ourselves. It is through our union with others, through their life in our minds and ours in theirs, that even the most solitary acts of true spiritual life become possible. The mysterious power of social influence is not merely an aid to the perception of truth, but the very condition of holding it. Suppose for a single instant that the mind could be absolutely isolated,-no longer drawn towards this mind for clearer intellectual vision, or able to read its moral experience under the fascination of that,-and it would shrink up into absolute individuality-the narrowness of spiritual death. Possibly Dr. Channing's school might reply, that the value of all social influence is only to open to us as it were the character of God; and that, He remaining, all our moral experience would remain, even though every human being were annihilated. Yet is this true? Is not the greater part of our spiritual life as a matter of fact, still conditioned by the individual channels of human influence through which we have drawn it? Would "progress"-would life, as we understand it,—that is, the growth of thoughts and faculties, all of which have immediate and direct concern with the society in which we are placed,-be longer possible if the very law of our being, the very condition of our conscience, the very spring of our piety, were annihilated by the annihilation of the other members of that living body of which we are part? It is the condition of human life that we could not be children at all without also being brothers. The social law of our being reaches,
we are confident, to the deepest depth of our most solitary life. A man's individual life could not grow, nay, could not be that of a man at all, could he be truly cut off from the community of man; even in solitude and isolation it is the life of a social being so long as it is human.
Channing's difficulty in realising this truth lay, we believe, in his religious position. He had grasped for himself the truth of moral freedom. Brought up in the gloomy belief that the shadow of predestination hung over the world,-that there was nothing for man to do but to live his appointed lot, the truth had suddenly dawned upon him that he had indeed a free creative will, a power of really becoming a "fellow-worker" with God. This conviction inspired him at once with that profoundly 66 generous view of human nature" so much exaggerated-or at least so little balanced by the belief which is its counterpart-in his school. And yet the sole point on which he rested this constant assertion of the "dignity of human nature" was moral freedom. All the involuntary affections and instincts of man he was inclined to distrust in the comparison; at least he held that they were to be always and invariably tamed, ruled, kept in abeyance; our likeness to God consisting in this solitary and lordly will. Hence he became something of a moral idealist, straining the power of the will, both in theory and in practice, beyond its true limits. He held up to himself a conception of duty that necessarily made his religious faith seem one of mere aspiration—a restless striving after an "ideal," instead of a quiet trust in the mighty arm of God. He wanted, in order to complete his type of faith, an adequate belief in the divine capacity of the involuntary side of human nature-an adequate trust in the life and conditions of feeling imposed upon the will, as well as in the freedom which those conditions circle. He needed to believe that God's life as well as his love runs through these natural channels; that likeness to him does not consist in becoming as near as we may to pure creative wills; that the divine Word unites and inspires not only our human natures, but our human natures on their human side. This was Channing's difficulty in finding a social character for his religion. He thought, in common with his Unitarian school, that religious union came only from the infinite side; that it was the common arch bending over us all, and that alone, which rendered common worship natural. Once take that view, and it is impossible not to deprecate secretly the limitations of humanity; not to think we were meant for something diviner than those limitations; not to strain at an assimilation to God on the free and voluntary side. But those who believe that the Word could really become flesh, and that the same Word does really still perennially penetrate with