« הקודםהמשך »
could not exchange with him. Exceeding great was his astonishment and pain: “ That men who differ from me should assert their difference this I expect,” he said ; “But that men who have been all along agreeing with me should turn and rend me in this fashion—I confess I was not prepared for it.” A few were faithful to him, and though differing from his position, vindicated his right to speak his bravest work. But it cost one of them his pulpit, and another a remonstrance from his congregation. He was called an Infidel, an Atheist ; a demand was made from certain quarters for his arrest and trial and punishment for blasphemy.
I wish that I had time to read you every word of that South Boston sermon. You would not find it very terrible. Hundreds of men all over these United States, who think Parker was a sort of devil, should they hear that sermon, not knowing it to be his, would say it was the very truth of God. No matter where he went, before he had been labelled as a heretic, men listened to his words with sacred joy. Once when he had been preach. ing for James Freeman Clarke, a good woman waited for him at the church door, and said to him as he went out, “I wish that Theodore Parker could have heard that sermon.” With a voice tremulous with emotion, and eyes glistening with tears, he told men of the soul's normal delight in the infinite God, and as they listened it seemed as natural to them also for man to be religious as for the earth to send up grass and flowers. What was the trouble, then, with his South Boston sermon ?
It was not that he believed less in God, less in Jesus, less in the Bible than his fellow-ministers ; no, but that he believed in them too deeply, and because he was drawn into discipleship less by logic than by love.
“ I cannot see,” he said, “ that Christianity depends on the personal authority of Jesus. He was the organ through which the infinite spoke. If Christianity be true, it seems as useless to look for any other authority to uphold it, as for some one to support Almighty God.” His sermon was a great cry of longing for the time when Jesus and the Bible should be better known. “ Then will it be seen,” he said, “ that the words of Jesus are the music of Heaven, sung in an earthly voice; exalt him as much as we may, we shail yet, perhaps, come short of the mark. But still, was he not our brother-the son of man, as we are, the Son of God like ourselves ?” It was the old, old story. His crime was not that he believed too little; but that he believed too much. “We have heard,” said men, “ chat there is a God. We guess that there is such a thing as immortality.” He said: “I know there is a God; I know that I shall be immortal.” It must be remembered that at this time he did not deny that Christianity was supernatural, though he assigned the miracles to a subordinate position. He affirmed the naturalness of religion to the human soul. He insisted on a law of universal inspiration, including Jesus in its operation. Ten years before, it had been said that Christianity was based on prophecy and miracles. Dr. Noyes had done away with prophecy, and Christianity had not been destroyed. The next thought was that miracles might go the way of prophecy and still leave Christianity intact. But suddenly a reaction began, the result of which was the conclusion, among many, that although miracles are not the corner stone of Christianity, they are the staging without which it could not have been built. Previous to 1841, Parker had not gone farther than this. But then he said, substantially, “ The building is completed; it is high time to take the staging down." And then the cry went up that if the staging was removed the building would not stand. The crime of the South Boston sermon was in thinking that it would.
Anon the writer of that sermon came to see that Christianity was not a building but a growth; and that the supernatural was not a staging but a parasitic growth that having well nigh choked it in its infancy was still gnaw. ing at its heart.
From the day of his proscription Parker developed very rapidly. His own little society in West Roxbury stood by him manfully, so manfully that when four years later a few earnest men in Boston came together, and it was resolved, “ That Theodore Parker have a chance to be heard in Boston,” it was very hard for him to say “Good-bye" to those who had believed in him so heartily. But he felt the need of a more ample field in which to exercise his powers. They surged within him like a great restless sea. Then, too, like Channing, he had had his period of abstract reasonings and sentiments, and it had passed. The time for the concrete had come. Sure of his premises, he longed to draw out his conclusions and apply them to the church and state, society and trade. For he saw that trade was curse, with avarice, that society was smitten with conformity, that the state was given over to be practised on by demagogues and charlatans, that the church, for the most part, let these things alone, winked at the sins of Boston and denounced those of Jerusalem, rebuked the slavery of Egypt, but not that of America, shouted to David, not to Polk or Fillmore, “ Thou art the man !" praised the dead saints and heroes, and turned their backs upon such living saints as Channing, such living heroes as Lloyd Garrison. Parker was certain his faith involved a faithful handling of these various subjects, that he could make pointed applications of it to the vices and the follies of his day, and for so doing Boston seemed the one place of all others. There he might get a hearing if no more. In any other city of the Union, he could not hope so much as that. And so it happened that the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society was formed, and he became its pastor, and one rainy day in February, 1845, began his glorious and faithful ministry. In a short time, the Melodeon, where he preached, became too small for those who wished to hear him. But no better place was found until the Music Hall was built in 1852. The great organ chat now foods that hall with harmony will never trance men's souls as Parker tranced them with the diviner music of his thought. What if there were sometimes discordant notes ? They had their place in his great moral symphonies; they added something to his oratorios of faith and love.
What was the message with which he made the Melodeon and the Music Hall resound? Was it a mere torrent of negation ? So it has been asserted many times. I claim that it was not. Though if it had been, since truth is one and error manifold, it would not have been strange if, in bulk, there had been more denial than there was affirmation. But it was his affirmations that received his emphasis and weight. Those that were central were not man certainly not so many as if he had affirmed something different every day, as many persons do who get much credit for their affirmations. They were not many, but they were great. Every book he ever wrote was full of them, and every sermon that he ever preached. Some of them were as follows: First, the infinite perfection of God. And when he said this he meant it. He did not assert it in general and deny it in particulars, but he asserted it consistently on every plane of life. His second affirmation was that man is adequate for all his functions; that as there is food for the body, all nature ready to serve it on due condition, so there is satisfaction for the spirit, truth and beauty for the intellect, human beings for the affections and God for the soul; that man can as naturally find satisfaction for his soul that hungers after the infinite God as for his mouth that hungers after daily bread. His third great affirmation was the fact of absolute religion, the natural relation of the whole man to God and of God to the whole man; the normal use of every part of the body, according to the body's law, the intellect according to its law, and the affections according to a law of their own. This religion upon its man-side is morality, upon its divine side is piety. There is no falser conception of Parker than that he was a rigid moralist and nothing
His soul was fairly steeped in God. The thought of God was more to him than all his thoughts beside. His criticism of the Unitarianism or his day was this : “ Most powerfully preaching to the understanding, the conscience and the will, the cry was ever duty, duty; work, work! It failed to address with equal power the soul, and did not also shout, joy, joy! delight, delight!” “Spinoza not believe in God ?” said Schleiermacher; “my friends, he did not believe in anything else.” Theodore Parker did be. lieve in something else ; but ho believed in God with all his might The earth he walked was full of him ; there was no brook that did not babble or him, no flower that was not fragrant with his love, no bird that did not sing his praise. His God was no tradition and no probability. He was a sweet and awful certainty. The revelation of him was within. Man knows in. stinctively, he said, that God exists ; he knows instinctively that there is a Moral Law and he must obey it; he knows instinctively that he shall never die. He was not more certain of his own existence than he was of these eternal truths. His heart was full of them, and every day brimmed over in melodious speech. They may seem bare enough, as I have stated them, but they trooped across his pages arrayed in all the beauty of the heavens and the earth. The shop, the field, the ways and haunts of men furnished him all-sufficient illustrations.
But, besides affirming much, he also denied many things, the Trinity ainong them, and eternal hell, the doctrines of atonement and depravity. But all this Channing had done before him. But Channing had rested his denial of these things on the New Testament, though practically his argument almost always was, “ The New Testament cannot teach these doctrines, for it is the Word.” “ But if it does teach them,” said Parker, “ what then ?" Channing was gone to his reward or I am certain that he would have answered : “ Then it is not God's word.” But the answer of the churches was, in effect, “ Then we must believe them.” Within the last few years, an organ of the Universalist denomination has said, “If the New Testament taught the doctrine of eternal hell, we should believe it.” “I would not believe it,” said Parker, “though twenty, yea, a thousand New Testaments declared it to be true.” Thus he insisted that the Bible was amenable to the decisions of the soul. He had accepted Channing's principle of Free Inquiry in all its breadth, and in the use of it he soon discovered that the Bible often missed the truth of history and science and morality. And then went up the cry of “ Heretic !” and “ Put him out !" this free inquiry? Not exactly ; but then it was said, “The difference between Channing and his persecutors was a difference inside of Christianity. Mr. Parker is outside.” But didn't those who persecuted Channing say that he was outside ? has not the persecutor always said this of his victim ? Who shall decide what is outside and what is not? Is not the assumption that I have a right to do so the essence of all bigotry? “If a man is permitted to decide that he is inside anything he may put his head through his own assumption, and others will appear to him outside.” The trouble is exactly this : there is no more fellowship between Christ and Belial than between religious liberty and supernatural authority. Liberty, with a slip knot round your neck, ready to choke the life out of you the minute that you pass a certain bound—what sort of Liberty is that? For this reason, then, if for no other, Parker was justified in breaking with the supernatural. Other reasons he had in great abundance. But this one was enough. He seceded from a dogma which he could not believe ; his persecutors from a principle which they accepted and affirmed.
It is regretted, not infrequently, that Parker did not live to raise a building in the place of that which he destroyed. Such a regret betrays a doleful ignorance of what he did and tried to do and was. It is not true that he was negative, that his negations occupied him so that he had no time to affirm. He was positive first, negative afterward. He did not burn his old furniture before getting any new. He got the new to start with, and then found that he had no use for the old. He did not tear down his hut of straw and stones and live nowhere in particluar, while proceeding to build up a more comfortable abode. He entered his ancestral halls at once ; took possession at the start of the great roomy mansion that his Heavenly Father had bequeathed to him, and lived and rejoiced in it all his life long, and, finding no use for the aforesaid hut, finding it to be a blot upon his premises, he tore it down. He had no need of it himself, and it was not like him to osser anybody else a building that he would not himself be content to live in. And every one of us, dear friends, did we but know it, have just such a divine inheritance waiting to be claimed. How long shall we allow these heavenly mansions to be thus unoccupied and meanwhile pay so dear for living in the huts of superstition, the caves and holes of the ecclesiastical theologies, places so little worthy of our high descent ?
Judging from Parker's printed works, it might have been inferred (until quite recently, when a selection has been made from his unpublished sermons,) that he spoke little of the individual private virtues of men. But, in fact, these were his constant themes. His sermons upon public social virtues, though many, were not the rule but the exception. Great as these sermons were, they did not embody the whole man. His inflexible sense of justice was in them, his hatred of oppression, his undying hope and resolution, his dauntless courage
and his matchless scorn. But these were but a part of his great qualities, and if you have read these sermons and hence imagine that you know the man, you are mistaken. Not till you have read his letters and his prayers, and the selections from his unpublished sermons, that have recently been given to the world, will you begin to know him as he was, a true master of pathos, the tenderest of men, a great heart of love, with an eye for all the holiest little things of life, holding a reverent ear to nature's beating heart, transported by the melody of human life. So much you might gather from his printed books, and then you might begin to know his greatness, but you would but begin. The proverb is that no man is a hero to his valet. This man seemed most heroic to the men who knew him best.
But while he was pre-eminently fond of dwelling on the individual side of life, no other preacher of his time did half so much for the benevolent and reformatory enterprises of the day. It will never be known how much he did in these directions, because he would not let men's hatred of his name damage the cause he had at heart, and therefore would not publicly connect himself with enterprises of which he was the private inspiration. They seemed all right when viewed impersonally; they would have seemed all wrong had it been known that Theodore Parker was the motive energy be. hind the scenes. Thus, without knowing it, his enemies often rendered him assistance in his work. Still it was unavoidable that such a man, so just, and at the same time so merciful, should publicly connect himself with every great reform. No motive of expediency could make him hold his peace when he saw great wrongs casting their blight on the community, or great mistakes diminishing the sources of its power. It was only in the fulfilment of specific aims that he saw the need of silence if he would not damage his own cause. He worked not for the glory of the thing but for the good of it, and if the good could come without the glory, it was all the same to him. So it was that in public and in private he labored faithfully in every noble cause,