VII. Christian Sects.

From: New Views . . . (1836)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: James Munroe and Company 1836 Boston


  THIS age must realize the Atonement, the union of Spirit and Matter, the destruction of all Antagonism and the production of universal peace.

  God has appointed us to build the new Church, the one which shall bring the whole family of Man within its sacred enclosure, which shall be able to abide the ravages of time, and against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail.”

  But we can do this only by a general doctrine which enables us to recognise and accept all the elements of Humanity. If we leave out any one element of our nature, we shall have antagonism. Our system will be incomplete and the element excluded will be forever rising up in rebellion against it and collecting forces to destroy its authority.

  All sects overlook this important truth. None of them seem to imagine that human nature has or should have any hand in the construction of their theories. Instead of studying human nature, ascertaining its elements and its wants, and seeking to conform to them, every sect labors to conform human nature to its own creed. No one dreams of moulding its dogmas to human nature, but every one would mould human nature to its dogmas. Every one is a bed of Procrustes. What is too short must be stretched, what is too long must be docked. No sect ever looks to human nature as the measure of truth; but all look to what they are pleased to call the truth, as the measure of human nature.

  This were well enough if human nature had only been made of wax, or some other ductile material. But unfortunately it is very stubborn. It will not bend. It will not be mutilated. Its laws are permanent and universal; each one of them is eternal and indestructible. They war in vain who war against them. Be they good or be they bad, we must accept them, we must submit to them and do the best we can with them.

  But human nature is well made, its laws are just and holy, its elements are true and divine. And this is the hidden sense of that symbol of the God-Man. That symbol teaches all who comprehend it, to find Divinity in Humanity, and Humanity in Divinity. By presenting us God and Man united in one person, it shows us that both are holy. The Father and the Son are one. Therefore we are commanded to honor the Son as we honor the Father, Humanity as Divinity, Man as well as God. But the Church has never understood this. No sect now understands it. Hence the contempt with which all sects treat human nature, and their entire want of confidence in it as a criterion of truth. They must correct themselves. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

  To reject human nature and declare it unworthy of confidence as the Church did, and as all sects now do, is—whether we know it or not—to reject all grounds of certainty, and to declare that we have no means of distinguishing truth from falsehood. Truth itself is nothing else to us than that which our nature by some one or all of its faculties compels us to believe. The fact that God has made us a revelation does not in the least impair this assertion. God has revealed to us truths which we could not of ourselves have dis­ covered. But how do we know this? What is it but the human mind that can determine whether God has or has not spoken to us? What but the human mind can ascertain and fix the meaning of what he may have communicated? If we may not trust the human mind, human nature, how can we ever be sure that a revelation has been made? or how distinguish a real revelation from a pretended one? By miracles? But how determine that what are alleged to be miracles, really are miracles? or the more difficult question still, that the miracles, admitting them to be genuine, do necessarily involve the truth of the doctrines they are wrought to prove? Shall we be told that we must believe the revelation is a true one, because made by an authorized teacher? Where is the warrant of his authority? What shall assure us that the warrant is not a forgery? Have we any thing but our own nature with which to answer these and a hundred more questions like them and equally important?

  If human nature has the ability and the right to answer these questions, where are the limits of its ability and its right? If we trust it when it assures us God has spoken to us, and when it interprets what he has spoken, where shall we not trust it? If it be no criterion of truth, why do we trust it here? And if it be, why do we disclaim it elsewhere? Why declare it worthy of confidence in one case and not in another? It is the same in all cases, in all its degrees; and whether it testifies to that which is little, or to that which is great, it is the same, and its testimony is of precisely the same validity.

  If we admit that human nature is the measure of truth,—of truth for us, human beings—then we admit that it is the criterion by which all sects must be tested. It is then the touchstone of truth. Every sect must be approved or condemned according to its decision. No sect must blame Humanity for not believing its doctrines. If after they have been fairly presented and fully comprehended they are rejected, they are proved to be false, or at least to be only partially true. It is no recommendation to advocate doctrines repugnant to human nature; nor is it any reproach to defend those which are pleasing to the natural heart. Humanity loves the truth and can be satisfied with nothing else. The sect, then, which ceases to make converts should abandon or enlarge its creed.

  Sects in general are and will be slow to learn this truth. Each sect, because it has all the truth to be seen from its stand-point, takes it for granted that it has the whole truth. It does not even dream that there may be other stand-points, from which other truths may be seen, or the same truths under other aspects; and therefore it concludes when its doctrines are rejected, that they are rejected because human nature is perverse or impotent, because men cannot or will not see the truth, or because they naturally hate it. Let it change its position and it will soon learn that the horizon, which it took to be the boundary of truth, was in fact only the boundary of its own vision.

  All sects, however, have their truth and are serviceable to Humanity. Each one has a special doctrine which gives prominence to some one element of our nature, and is therefore satisfactory to all in whom that element predominates. But as that element, however important a one it may be, is not the whole of human nature, and as it can hardly be predominant alike in all men, no sect can satisfy entire Humanity. Each sect does something to develope and satisfy the separate elements of Humanity, but no one can develope and satisfy all the elements of Humanity and satisfy them as a whole.

  Spiritualism and Materialism are the two most comprehensive sectarian doctrines which have ever been proclaimed. But neither of these is comprehensive enough. Either may satisfy a large class of wants, but each must leave a class equally as large unsatisfied. One has always been opposed by the other, and mutual opposition has finally destroyed them both. Humanity is still sighing for what it has not. It is seeking rest but finds none. And rest it will not find, till its untiring friends gain a stand-point, from which, as with one grand panoramic view, they may take in all its elements in their relative proportions, and exact distances, in their diversity and in their unity, till they have gone up and down the earth and collected and brought together its disjointed members, which contending sects have torn asunder, and moulded them into one complete and lovely form of truth and holiness.

  Where is the Christian sect that is engaged in this work? Where is the one that deems it desirable or possible? All the sects of Christendom, so far as it concerns their dominant tendency, fall into the category of Spiritualism, or into that of Materialism. Catholicism is virtually the Church of the middle ages. It is but a reminiscence. It has no life, at least no healthy existence. It belongs to Spiritualism. Calvinism, bating some few modifications produced by Protestant influence, is only a continuation of Catholicism. It is decidedly Spiritualistic. Its prayers, its hymns and homilies are deeply imprinted with Spiritualism. It repels the material order, and exhorts us to crucify the flesh, to disregard the world and to think only of God, the soul and eternity.

  In the opinion of the Calvinist, the world lies under the curse of the Almighty. It is a wretched land, a vale of tears, of disease and death. There is no happiness below. It is vain, almost impious, to wish it till death comes to release us from the infirmities of the flesh. As long as we live we sin; we must carry about at weary load, an overwhelming burthen, a body of death. Man is a poor, depraved creature. He is smitten with a curse, and the curse spreads over his whole nature. There is nothing good within him. Of himself he can obtain, he can do, nothing good. He is unclean in the sight of God. His sacrifices are an abomination, and his holiest prayers are His will is perverted; his affections are all on the side of evil; his reason is deprived of its light, it is blind and impotent, and will lead those who trust to its guidance down to hell.

  By its doctrine of “Foreordination,” Calvinism annihilates man. It allows him no independent causality. It permits him to move only as a pre­ordaining and irresistible will moves him. It makes him a thing, not a person, with properties but without faculties or rights. Whatever his destiny, however cruel, he has no right to complain. Spirit is absolute and has the right to receive him into blessedness or send him away into everlasting punishment, without any regard to his own wishes, merit or demerit. Hence Calvinists always give supremacy to the Spiritual order. They fled from England to this then wilderness world, because they would not conform to a Church established by the state; and when here they constituted the Church superior to the state. In theory the Pilgrims made the state a mere function of the Church. In order to be a citizen it was necessary that one should first be a church member. And for the last twenty years the great body of Calvinists throughout our whole country have been exerting all their skill and influence to raise the Church to that eminence from which it may overlook the state, control its deliberations and decide its measures.

  His doctrine of “hereditary total Depravity” has always compelled the Calvinist to reject Reason and to rely on Authority—to seek faith, not conviction. Protestant influences prevent him in these days from submitting to an infallible Pope, hut he indemnifies himself by infallible creeds, councils, synods and assemblies. Or if these fail him, he can ascribe infallibility to the “written Word.” Always does he prohibit himself the free exercise of his own understanding, and prescribe hounds beyond which reason and reasoning must not venture.

  By the dogma of Christ’s vicarious death, he takes his stand decidedly with Spiritualism, denies the Atonement, loses sight of the Mediator, and rejects the God-Man. He cannot then build the new Church, the Church truly universal and eternal. It is in vain that we ask him to destroy all antagonism. He does not even wish to do it; before the foundations of the world, its origin and eternity were decreed. God and the devil, the saint and the sinner, in his estimation, are alike immortal.

  Universalism would seem to a superficial observer to be what we need. Its friends call it the doctrine of universal reconciliation, and they group around the love of God that which constitutes the real harmony and unity of creation. But Universalists do not understand themselves. They have a vague sense or the truth, but not a clear perception of it. As soon as they begin to explain themselves, they file off either to the ranks of Spiritualism, or of Materialism.

  The larger number of Universalists, among whom is; or was, the chief of the sect, contend that all sin originates in the flesh and must end with it. The flesh ends at death, when it is deposited in the tomb; therefore, “he that is dead is freed from sin.” Sin is the cause of all suffering; when sin ends, suffering ends. Sin ends at death, and therefore after death no suffering, but universal happiness.

  This doctrine is as decidedly Spiritualism as oriental Spiritualism itself. If the body be the cause of all sin, it certainly deserves no respect. It is a vile thing, and should be despised, mortified, punished, annihilated. Universalists do not draw this inference, but they avoid it only by really denying that there is any sin, or 1at least by considering the consequences of sin of too little importance to be dreaded.

  The body, however, according to this doctrine is a curse. Man would be better off without it than he is with it. It deserves nothing on its own account. Wherefore then shall I labor to make it comfortable? I shall be released from it to-morrow, and enter into a world of unutterable joy. Let my lodging to-night be on the bare ground, in the open air, destitute of a few conveniencies, what imports it? Can I not afford to forego a pleasant lodging for one night, since I am ever after to be filled and overflowing with blessedness? Universalism, then, according to this exposition of it, must inevitably lead to neglect of the material order. Its legitimate result would be, not licentiousness, but a dreaming, contemplative life, wasting itself away in idleness, watching the motion of the sun, and wishing it to move faster, so that we may be the sooner translated from this miser• able world, where nothing is worth laboring for, to our Father’s kingdom where is music and dancing, songs and feasting forever and ever.

  Universalists have, however, existing side by side with this exclusive Spiritualism, some strong tendencies to Materialism. Spiritualism and Materialism are nearly balanced in their minds, and constitute, not a union of spirit and matter, but a parallelism which has no tendency to union. But when the true doctrine of the Atonement is proclaimed, Universalists will be among the first believers. None will rejoice more than they, to see the new Church rise from the ruins of the old, and none will attend more readily or with more zeal at its consecration.

  Unitarianism belongs to the material order. It is the last word of Protestantism, before Protestantism breaks entirely with the Past. It is the point towards which all Protestant sects Converge in proportion as they gain upon their reminiscences. Every consistent Protestant Christian must be a Unitarian. Unitarianism elevates man; it preaches morality; it vindicates the rights of the mind, accepts and uses the reason, contends for civil freedom, and is social, charitable and humane. It saves the Son of man, but sometimes loses the Son of God.

  But it is from the Unitarians that must come out the doctrine of universal reconciliation; for they are the only denomination in Christendom that labors to rest religious faith on rational conviction; that seeks to substitute reason for authority, to harmonize religion and science, or that has the requisite union of piety and mental freedom, to elaborate the doctrine which is to realize the Atonement. The orthodox, as they are, called, are disturbed by their memory. Their faces are on the back side of their heads. They have zeal, energy, perseverance, but their ideas belong to the past. The Universalists can do nothing till some one arises to give them a philosophy. They must comprehend their instincts, before they can give to their doctrine of reconciliation that character which will adapt it to the wants of entire Humanity.

  But Unitarians are every day breaking away more and more from tradition, and every day making new progress in the creation of a philosophy which explains Humanity, determines its wants and the means of supplying them. Mind at this moment is extremely active among them, and as it can act freely it will most certainly elaborate the great doctrine required. They began in Rationalism. Their earlier doctrines were dry and cold. And this was necessary. They were called at first to a work of destruction. They were under the necessity of clearing away the rubbish of the old Church, before they could obtain a site whereon to erect the new one. The Unitarian preacher was under the necessity of raising a stern and commanding voice in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He raised that voice, and the chief Priests and Pharisees in modern Judea heard and trembled, and some have gone forth to be baptised. The Unitarian has baptised them with water unto repentance, but he has borne witness that a mightier than he shall come after him, who shall baptise them with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

  When the Unitarian appeared, there was on this whole earth no spot for the Temple of the living God, the temple of Reason, Love and Peace. For such a spot he contended. He has obtained it. He has begun the Temple; its foundations already appear, and although the workmen must yet work with their arms in one hand, he will see it completed, consecrated, and filled with the glory of the Lord.

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