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“A man that looks on glass,
And then the heaven espy. So we may look on or through Jesus Christ. He is the glass of God. All the objects of nature - stones, trees, stars, and animals — may be studied in themselves for
their particular attributes. But when to the true, that is, lowly and reverent, man of science, as he studies them, appears the consistent plan, on which throughout the creation is made, suddenly the whole manifold existence, organized and inorganic, becomes a transparency for the being and unity of God. The mediation leads to immediate view, and that contemplates always and only One. So Kepler, the great astronomer, declares that through the maze of systems, vanishing like a cloud, he saw God passing by, making him the observer stand in wonder mute and still. In that vision was no trinity, but unity alone.
Not the knowing head alone, but the feeling heart, demands oneness in the object of its highest worship and love. When we are stirred with gratitude, when we are kindled with spiritual affection, or straitened in our sore need, while what is most precious to our eyesight is lowered into the grave, we want but One. We
We go and can go to but one Deliverer, Benefactor, and all-sufficient Friend. All about twos and threes, trigonometrical modes and persons, confuses us. God can be put into no such logical pound with triangular fence. As Luther sees Melancthon sick and ready to die, he turns to the window and clasps his hands in prayer.
The attendant physician, the kneeling and weeping friends, the room and furniture, are lost to his sight. He looks up and pours out the most fervent prayer, crying, “ Our Lord God!" for the recovery of his friend. No threefold conception of the Deity is in his mind. That is forgotten, left behind in the creeds of synods and the speculations of the schools. He is a Unitarian then and there three centuries ago, as John was nineteen centuries ago, and, in all he says afterwards about the merciful answer to his request, recognizes only the One Source of all pity and love. Even the adorer of Christ is, while adoring, perforce a Unitarian, for in his adoration he makes him to be the only God.
As the head, in the clear light and before the open windows of the universe, can own but one Creator; and as the heart can love and adore but one Father; so the conscience and will, too, in all their work of duty, can see, in the Apostle's phrase, but one Lawgiver. All science and experience, spite of huge ranks behind in darkness still, marshal the van to this result. Moral obligation, progressive knowledge, and holy, unbounded love, in the mind and breast and life of man, thus accept and confirm the report of that sky-piercing gazer from the rocky isle in the Ægean Sea, of One sitting on the throne. May they prevail to form in us sometimes the state of mind represented by that modern poet of spiritual truth, Wordsworth, in his book of “ The Wanderer":
“ In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
OUR LIBERTY AND PLACE IN THE CHURCH.
The great Apostle of the Gentiles is also the great Apostle of Liberty. The philosophers and statesmen, even Luther and Milton, have not defined and justified our liberty with Paul's precision and fulness. He told the Corinthian church once, and now tells all churches and all men, in the same explicit language, that this principle is not supreme, but is limited by other spiritual forces, and fulfils its office only when allowing them to direct and qualify its own energy and activity. The mind is free to renounce idolatry and mammon, but by the exercise of the same freedom it is impelled to accept and worship the true God. In all his expositions, he is careful to keep this strong and often unruly element in its appointed place and sphere, to show where it belongs and what it is ordained to do, and settle its rank in the order of our human faculties. Liberty, according to the Apostle, does not mean unconditional license, - freedom to do everything and obey nothing. It does not imply all absence of restraint, or all abnegation of law. Rights are sacred as well as liberty, and no man is permitted to interfere with another on the plea that he is free, and can do as he will. That boast is itself an abuse, and implies the bondage a man is in to some low passion or prejudice. For it is not liberty that is absolute, but God.
We prosecute inquiry under the stimulus of liberty, and nothing else gives such vigor to our higher mental processes; bụt in all research, the way is not quite free to the end, - we meet checks and limitations which suggest the presence and action of other forces, equally to be heeded and worthy of equal authority in making up the final judg. ment. The sentiments that oftenest interfere with our lib. erty are among the most profound of our religious nature, such as wonder and awe and reverence. To a devout soul the exercise of liberty tends more strongly to belief than to denial, as Paul assured the Corinthians that it was a higher mood of mind to confess the Father and the Son, than to expose an idol which they had found out to be “nothing in the world.” Thus we are sometimes free to do; and again, a right freedom requires us to refrain from doing. Liberty does not lead us off on a straight line of unrestricted, lawless, and irresponsible action. Liberty does not mean license, excess.
Our ecclesiastical position is usually described by this word. We are called Liberal Christians, indicating a place independent and outside of the church that asserts an evangelical submission and doctrinal conformity. Taking our position as the index of our creed, other denominations suppose that we hold only lax and indefinite notions of religion; and it would be but natural, if sometimes we fell into such notions, — if we actually held the very errors that we are charged with, and drifted away from the higher sentiments, under the lead of our liberality and independence. Men often find idols where there are none, and they do not always find God where he is. So with us. We are liable to go astray, and to mistake error for truth. But down in our hearts we are honest men, and do not mean to be misled by words, — neither to worship idols, nor to forget God. We range ourselves with all true seekers and worshippers. And as our place is not defined by creed or form or authoritative priesthood, we must, from time to time, define it for ourselves, - show in word and life how we are a living branch of the true Vine. This we believe it possible to do, and, more than this, indicate some marked advantage over those brethren who stand within the great ecclesiastical bodies and sects. Surely we have our strong point, and we may assert it and maintain it, without attributing any weakness to others. Here we do not boast of ourselves, but rather vindicate a principle.
It is true our ecclesiastical position is an outside one, and therefore, of necessity, liberal and independent. Naturally,