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August 7, 1836. My dear friend, I have spent more time from home this Sunday than is usual with me, and shall be able to scribble but little ; yet I will not break through the growing habit of putting a few thoughts on paper every first day of the week.
Your Sermon, as well as your Service for the Lord's Supper, were very much in agreement with my views and wishes. You treated the difficult subject of the Transfiguration in a most satisfactory manner.-It has been said by my excellent friend Neander, in the little pamphlet containing his opinion of the work of Strauss, Das Leben Jesu, that if the notion of an ideal Christ should gain ground among the teachers of Christianity, the old system of an esoteric and an exoteric religion—a religion for the learned or initiated in certain methods of interpretation, and another for the mass of the people, must be the necessary consequence. To this he decidedly objects, and so do I from my heart. But though you are far, very far indeed, from being an idealist on the subject of the Christian documents, your Sermon of this morning would be a practical demonstration that, if the emblematic character which you give to the Transfiguration were extended to many more parts of the history of Jesus, a teacher from the pulpit might well present any portion or portions of the Gospels, so that they might be extremely profitable to his hearers, in whichever sense individuals might take them. Unless there is an inquisitorial spirit obliging every Christian Minister to deliver a profession of faith, as a kind of pledge to the Congregation that he will not think upon religious subjects in any way beyond a certain form and measure—the most perfect freedom in regard to history and criticism may be enjoyed by a Christian instructor without the necessity of simulation on the one hand, or of intellectual scandal on the other. You did not tell us, that unless we believed the narrative of the Transfiguration historically, we could not be saved; nor did you assure us that nothing of the kind ever took place, but that the supposed narrative was written as a mere emblem or figure. To assert either, would be equally rash ; though I conceive the first assertion to be more injurious to true Christianity than the last. But why should any man who undertakes the office of Christian instructor be compelled to embrace either extreme ? Every reasonable and unprejudiced man, who has studied the Christian documents, must be convinced of the total absence of sufficient grounds for such unqualified assertions. If, therefore, he sincerely loves the human model of divine virtue which almost spontaneously arises from the various elements—moral, intellectual, and imaginative-contained in those documents, I cannot conceive why he should not employ himself in leading others to a clear knowledge and sincere love of that model, putting aside the difficulties which stand in the way of reducing the whole of the Gospels to history.
I have often told you that I do not claim this latitude so much for myself as for others. I am certain that the Gospel narratives give, as events in the history of Jesus, emblematical representations which unquestionably belonged to former religious systems. But this fact does not drive . me to the rash hypothesis which makes Jesus a mythological personage : I am, on the contrary, more and more confirmed, not only of the real existence, but of the supereminently striking character of Jesus, by finding that all the emblems of the peculiar deliverance expected by the
most enlightened and spiritual portions of mankind-of that deliverance from vice and error which is the special work of the “Word made flesh,” i.e. the eternal Logos, or Reason of God, under the form of human Reason and Conscienceall these figures and emblems, as well as others expressing beneficence attended by labour and affliction, and finally crowned with triumph and glory, were found so peculiarly adapted to the humble Son of Mary, a carpenter of Galilee.
Under these convictions, I sincerely lament the insuperable obstacles which the established notions place in the way of preserving the Gospels, as the best external help for the maintenance and propagation of the religion of the Christ—the religion of the Logos—or, without figure, the religion of Conscience, enlightened by the example and preaching of Jesus and his immediate disciples. I see that men reject that best source of religious light, because they are told by the ardent preachers of its power, that it depends on history and criticism for moral efficacy ; because they hear it unanimously declared, that whoever cannot find the marks of historical truth in every passage which assumes the form of fact in the Bible, must bear a greater condemnation than that of the most immoral men, who never doubted because they did not care to examine the contents of the books, which the Christian Priesthood have declared to be as infallible as God himself. As I do believe that the form of human virtue which Christ made known is a peculiar blessing of heaven ; as in that sense I consider it as the brightest, most useful, and most extensive revelation of God to man, I would, if necessary, shed my blood to deliver it from the theological, historical, and critical incumbrances which still sadly limit its natural efficiency. But the time when bodily martyrdom promoted the cause of truth is
past. The martyrdom which the lovers of Christian truth, as well as of Christian freedom, are now called to endure, is that to which boldness and sincerity exposes us, and to that I need not exhort you.
Incapable as I find myself of promoting the extirpation of the poisonous weeds which choke real Christianity, it is a great satisfaction to my old age to see you every day advancing in the peculiar knowledge which, under God's blessing, will enable you to spread the light which now dawns among the English Unitarians. The knowledge of which I speak is not confined to the discovery of existing errors; its most valuable part is a delicate perception of even the minutest fragments of truth which may be involved with them. This is a faculty which belongs rather to the heart than to the understanding; the discovery of the valuable substance, mixed up with a mass of worthless ore, depends on the instinct of love. A religious reformer who wants that instinct, a man without the tenderness of the purest devotion in regard to every thing connected with God and holiness, must be the cause of great mischief. Heaven has, in his mercy, preserved you from that want.
I am greatly exhausted, and can say no more to-day.
Aug. 14th, 1836. My dear Friend, My attention was drawn last week by a letter published in the Morning Chronicle, written, as it appears, by a Prussian Roman Catholic. The writer showed a decided dissatisfaction with his Government, because, as it might be
inferred from the charges against the King of Prussia and his Ministers, the Roman Catholics are not called to office as frequently as the Protestants, in proportion to their respective numbers. This complaint led me into a train of thought which I wish to impart to you, because the observations which I have to state apply very closely to our concerns in England, and appear to me to throw light on the source of some very common errors.
From the moment that Religion—not as a contrivance of one class of men to goveru another, but as a reality of the intellectual world,—is intimately connected with the external objects of human desire and ambition, from that moment the investigation of religion as Truth becomes a matter of the utmost difficulty, even to the best disposed and most disinterested men. This difficulty—not to say, impossibility-arises from the double character which Religion assumes, namely, that of Truth, and that of an INSTRUMENT of Government. These two characters are constantly, but imperceptibly, changing places before the mind; or rather, they blend so inseparably, like the two pictures in the Thaumatrope, (to use the happy illustration of the Archbishop of Dublin,) that all logical distinction must vanish in any discussion about them. So it is, that when the members of the religion favoured by Government, claim privileges which cannot have any other ground but the preference which the Government gives to their religious form as a political instrument, they proceed on the supposition of the intrinsic and unquestionable truth of the established system. So, on the other hand, when the Dissenter feels the disadvantages under which a politically established religion must necessarily place all sects which do not enjoy the fruits of the political preference, he entirely