Page images
PDF
EPUB

character of Jesus Christ are to me the brightest revelations of his truth. I know no histories to be compared with the gospels in marks of truth, in pregnancy of meaning, in quickening power. I attach great importance to the miracles. They have a vital union with the religion, are full of it, and marvellously adapted to it. They are not anomalous, arbitrary events. I have no faith in abstract, insulated, purposeless miracles, which indeed are morally impossible ; but the miracles of Christ belong to him, complete the manifestation of him, are in harmony with his truth, and at once give to it, and receive from it, confirmation. I should pay little heed to a narrative, from ever so many hands, of the resurrection of a low-minded man, who had died for no end, and had risen, according to the story, to lead as low a life as before. But the resurrection of Christ, related as it is to his character and religion, taught and sealed with blood by the grand reformers of the race, and related as it is in the gospels, is a fact which comes to me with a certainty which I find in few ancient histories. The evidence of such miracles as accompanied Christianity seems to me precisely suited to the moral wants of men in present and past times, i.e. to a stage where the moral development is sufficient to discern more or less of divinity in Christian truth, but not sufficient to produce full, earnest faith. I need miracles less now than formerly. But could I have got where I am, had not miracles entered into the past history of the world ?

Another topic about which I may have misapprehended you, is supernaturalism. I doubt if I know what you mean by it; but I have not room to write about it. I will only say, that I have no sympathy with those who disparage the natural. Nature, in its broad sense, as meaning the created universe, with its order and law, becomes more and more sacred, divine in my sight. But a letter would not hold what I might say here. Your true meaning I should like to get.

If a happy moment for writing comes on you, I wish you

would communicate more particulars about the new school of Oxford. The Church of England has seemed to me su dead, that I am interested by any sign of life, though it be a fever. I suppose too that the movement is in resistance of the material tendencies of the age, and in this way it may indicate a higher moral feeling, though it is too servile, too distrustful of the reason, too exclusively given to the imaginative, to promise any good. Is it a sudden burst, or has it grown up slowly?

I wish to know the result of the Trinitarian controversy in Liverpool. I have read with pleasure two or three tracts of Mr. Martineau and Mr. Thom, and hope to see the whole. I was particularly struck with their freedom from cant, from popular appeals, with their noble faithful. ness to their convictions, with their calm reliance on the power of truth.—Did they produce immediate effects? If so, your city must have made no small progress, moral and intellectual. I do not subscribe to all the positions of these gentlemen ; but I feel great respect for the power and spirit manifested in what I have read.—I trust I shall hear that you continue more comfortable. With sympathy and respect,

Your Friend,

W. E. CHANNING.

Dec. 26, 1839. I have received, this morning, a letter from Dr. Channing, dated Boston, Nov. 20. It chiefly contains objections to views which Dr. C. thinks to be expressed in my last letter to him. I wish to lay those objections clearly before me, and make a few observations upon them, which probably I shall afterwards enlarge in an answer to my excellent correspondent.

You seem to me to make religion too exclusively the product of the Reason, and carry your jealousy of the Imagination too far.”

Imagination has a powerful and direct tendency to Idolatry, which prevents its being a safe guide to true Religion. Our first religious concern is to discover the true Religion : thiş can only be done by Reason. Let us call it Judgment, in order to avoid confusion. Truth must be discovered either in the works of God, namely, ourselves and the external universe,ếor in the convictions of other men; such are traditions, written and unwritten. According to the language used in Theology, Religion must be known either by authority, or by logical investigation. It appears to me unquestionable, that in both cases we exclusively require the investigating, not the inventive faculty—which is the faculty called Reason, or Judgment. Does Christianity consist of propositions directly stated or suggested by God? This, with its real or pretended proofs, is an historical investigation-Imagination can only mislead us in such an inquiry.

“But is it not the function of this glorious faculty (Imagination) to see in the Universe a type of the Divinity, in the sun a shadow of his glory, in the beautiful, sublime, and awful of Nature, the signs of spiritual beauty and power?”

The function of Imagination in all this is to afford emblems and figures, corresponding to truths previously settled by the supreme judging faculty. In

VOL. III.

regard to Truth, i. e. to existence or fact, Reason is supreme. Imagination is the disguiser of Error. It gives the air of reality to what does not exist. It is true that Imagination has been given to us by God, and so have the Passions with which Imagination is intimately allied ; and they can only be useful when under the direction of Reason.

“Is not the Imagination the principle which tends to the Ideal, which rises above the finite and existent, which conceives of the Perfect, of what eye hath not seen, or ear heard ?-I suppose we differ in words."

By Imagination I understand the Faculty which reproduces the impressions made by objects of sense. Imagination cannot overpass the limits of “what eye has seen, and ear heard.” All the operations above mentioned belong exclusively to a modification of Reason, which perhaps might be called Ideality. Reason alone rises above the finite. Reason alone, as Ideality, penetrates the regions of Infinitude, and leads to what is Necessary and Universal. Such ideas are quite above the region of Images, where every thing is essentially limited. The vividness of Images depends on the accuracy of the outline.

“I consider Religion, however, as founded in the joint operation of all our powers,-as revealed by the Reason, the Imagination, and the Moral Sentiments."

We certainly agree here in substance ;-in practical religion all our faculties are concerned, except, I should say, that which reduces every thing to sen

suous images. From the beginning of the world to this day, it has been the great enemy of true religion. If we employ Imagination, we shall reduce God to the shape of a man, however vague and indistinct refinement may strive to make it. We shall have a heaven in space, which shall be nothing but a shadowy continuation of our present life.

But is Imagination to be banished from practical Religion ?-It is my conviction that the spirituality of our Religion depends on that exclusion.

Are we to banish feeling? All feeling arising from Imagination should also be excluded: but not the feelings which arise from the moral sense. These flow from Reason, since they have their source in Conscience, which is the practical Reason.

I am not an enemy to the sublime emotions which arise in our bosom at the contemplation of ourselves and this wonderful universe, with reference to God. They constitute the most blessed moments of a rational existence. But I consider the Imaginative Faculty—that faculty which clothes every idea in matter—as the arch-enemy of those truly spiritual enjoyments.-Cleanse the internal sanctuary from idols, if the Deity is to take his seat within it.

Dec. 31, 1839. I have been able, at different periods, to compare the highest assurance of Hope which the common

« PreviousContinue »