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where our own strength lies. In those points in which the old Church fails, the new excels. The term Protestantism, as used to designate the Christianity of the Reformation, is on some accounts an unfortunate one. It expresses what was transient and momentary in that form of Christianity, not what is immanent. It expresses negation. But Protestantism is more than negation. It was my intention in taking up this subject to have unfolded to you the positive side of Protestantism. But the argument has unexpectedly taken another direction, and that purpose must remain unfulfilled. But this let me say, that the history of Protestantism teaches, - what indeed its theory, if it has
any, avows, - that Christianity is progressive, that the true Church is not that stark, stiff, stolid immobility which Rome would have it, but a progressive self-unfolding of the Spirit through successive bodies or churches, from life to life. The theory of progressive development is the key to ecclesiastical history. It is the only theory which will solve the strange contradictions of the Christian ages, and justify the ways of the Spirit in the modes of each time. It is the only theory by which the history of Christianity can approve itself as providential. Why, if this dispensation is of God, and if, as we believe, our plain Unitarian doctrine was the evangelical type of Christian theology, — why for so many cen. turies have Athanasian and Augustinian views had possession of the Christian mind? Why, if Congregationalism, as we believe, was the primitive form of the Christian communities, — why through all the periods of mediæval history, and before and after, have other polities, prelatical and hierarchical, usurped its place ? « Perversion” and “corruption" are the words which most readily occur, when these questions are asked. But they do not satisfy me. I want to know why on this supposition God gave a revelation, and then virtually withdrew it; why the truth was shown, and then hidden again, and hidden so long. One of the strongest arguments in support of Christianity, - a divinely originated and authorized Christianity, - it has been considered, is the necessity of such a revelation to meet the moral and spiritual wants of mankind. This was the purpose of God in bestowing it. Now, if we say that Chris
tianity, as we have it, is the only true Christianity, then we confess that that purpose was frustrated during a third of the time through which human history extends, and so deprive that argument of nearly all its force. I find the solution of this enigma in the word development ;— development from a ritual and partial religion to a spiritual and universal one; from a system demanded by mediæval conditions to one of ampler scope, adapted to full-aged man. No form of Christianity is absolutely and only true. Each successive one was right in its place, and good in its season ; each put forward the face, and embodied the truth, which the time required. To say that a system which for more than a thousand years was the prevailing system of the Christian world, was a mere fraud, a pure invention foisted on the Gospel by human ingenuity, as our school criticism has very coolly pronounced it, seems to me a little monstrous. I cannot help hesitating at such a judgment, when I consider all that is implied in it, with regard to the Author of Christianity, and his connection with the Church. I do not see what becomes of the promised Spirit, on this supposition, or what becomes of Christ's presence with his followers to the end of the world. Not a human invention, I should say, but a phase which, in the order of Providence, and under the guidance of God's Spirit, Christianity was made to assume for its own behoof and the spiritual needs of mankind.
But now we have come out of that, we have outgrown it, we have no more need of it, and in Christ's name, with the leave of the Church, or without her leave, if need be, we will put it off. Protestantism says this, first of all, and defends it. Protestantism means movement. And when we say this, we pronounce its justification, we pronounce its eulogy. For what but movement is the destination of man in this moving world? Creation moves from everlasting to everlasting. This universe of things, whose sum no thought can grasp, is not a fixture, but a movement; the free selfmovement of the eternal mind. All life is movement, and the quantity of movement is the measure of vitality. He who moves all things with his thought has not willed that any spirit should stand still. And the Church, the communion of spirits, must move or die. When, therefore, a church claims to be stationary, and makes it its vaunt, - contrasting its own immobility with the changes all around it, — that it stands unmoved in the flood of things, that its doctrine and discipline have been the same from age to age, it mistakes the aim of religion and the calling of the spirit; and that which it urges as its glory is truly its shame.
Herself progressive, Protestant Christianity tolerates progress in all things, and easily adjusts herself with it. She cultivates friendly relations with science and the arts of life, with the popular cause, and all the movements of society. She has no quarrel with the light, and no occasion to shut it out. She does not contract her pupil in the noonday of modern discoveries, nor complain to the moon
“Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient, solitary reign.” Herein consists the strength of Protestantism, socially and politically, that it stands abreast with the world, it accepts the time and is accepted by it. It joins hands with popular governments, concurs with advancing humanity, and conspires with Freedom for individual growth and self-culture. This is its strength. Its weakness, one would say, is its schismatic tendency, its strong inclination to sever and secede, -- the apparent preponderance in it of the centrifugal over the centripetal power. This has usually been regarded as its weak side. I have been accustomed so to regard it myself. But if Protestantism be essentially true in principle and spirit, this tendency, which constitutes so essential an element of Protestant Christianity, must be compatible somehow with its perpetuity and success. It is true, the centrifugal appears to predominate in it, when compared with Rome, — Rome being one, and Protestantism many. And yet the opposite tendency is also in it, or it would not have lived until now. Each fragment successively thrown off aims at wholeness, and rounds itself into shape, and revolves with the rest around the central sun, and draws its life from the Lord.
There is reason to believe that the process of separation is about complete; and though at present no decided tendency to recombination and consolidation appears, a movement in that direction among the Protestant sects may not unreasonably be expected in the order of the spirit's progressive life, — the centripetal affection again prevailing; as, according to some, the planetary systems in our firmament are drawing together, and will finally coalesce into one.
I believe, according to the creed of an elder age, in the “ Holy Catholic Church.” I believe that such a church, as a visible earthly reality, is possible. I believe there is a foundation for it in human nature, and a promise of it in the Gospel; I believe it to be the destined consummation of our religion; a spiritual bond by which all men shall be one in Christ and one with God; a church combining the greatest liberty with the greatest union, consulting and conciliating all the wants of the spirit, gathering up and directing all our powers in a service which shall be the united action of all for the good of all.
Whether the Roman Church, putting off its corruptions, will ever expand into that, whether the Protestant sects, forgetting their differences, will ever merge into that, are questions whose answer is reposited in the deep inind of God, and not to be drawn thence by human foresight.
Meanwhile the question for us is, What can we do, what ought we to do, to maintain and promote the Protestant Christian idea and interest, in view of the growing strength and rapidly increasing spread of Romanism in our land and in the world ? What can we do to develop and establish the true Church? We can do but this, work in our place, work in our own church, and working, hope; work in a large spirit while we work in a small body, and seek catholic ends in the service of an insignificant and feeble sect.
We may congratulate ourselves, Gentlemen and fellow-laborors, as Congregationalists, as Unitarian Congregationalists (for in Unitarianism the Congregational principle is more fully realized than elsewhere), — we may congratulate ourselves on occupying a favorable position in the controversy between Roman and Protestant. We stand on the vantage-ground of a simple and intelligible principle, fully carried out. “ Either you are right,” said a Roman Bishop to a Unitarian preacher, “or I am right; there is no consistent position between us." As Protestants of the Protes
tants, we represent the Protestant idea in its last development and fullest extent. There is no tenable or defensible ground between reason applied to the interpretation of Christianity, and Rome.
We may congratulate ourselves on the steady progress of our communion, from year to year, and on the hold which our principles have gained on thoughtful minds beyond the limits of that communion. What we most want, as a body, is greater compactness and union among ourselves.
We want more of the corporate spirit, a stronger sense of our denominational mission and calling, and through that of our relation with the Church Universal. I suppose there is no denomination of Christians in which there is so little of this spirit, so little concentration, so little care for their own commonweal and its success. This I consider a fault in our connection, the result sometimes of a daintiness which refuses to mix with the mass in any movement, or to let itself be used for any common end; and sometimes the result of an insensibility which ignores the obligation laid upon every believer, in some way to coöperate for the maintenance and promotion of Christian truth. But why coöperate in this particular way, through this connection, or any connection? Why league with a sect? Let every man give forth his own word on his own responsibility, independent of all sectarian alliance. Consulting only his own genius, let him cast his thought and action into the time, neither seeking the sanction nor heeding the resistance of any body whose system it may happen to favor or contradict. By all means! God forbid that any sincere word should be suppressed by the ban of a church or the censorship of a sect; that any soul should be so hampered by association, as to fail of its legitimate influence on the time; that any one who, like Paul, conceives himself to have his call, not from men, but from Christ direct, should not have the same liberty with Paul of not conferring with flesh and blood,” nor going “ up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before ” him, but preaching his own Gospel in his own way. There is no danger that he will not have it. When God calls an apostle, He will see to it that his mouth is not stopped.
But for those of us who can hardly claim an apos