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Dr. Channing's Discourse in Providence, Rhode Island.
(Continued from page 202.) In these remarks I have spoken strongly. But I have no fear of expressing too strongly, the connection between the divine and the human mind. My only fear is, that I sball dishonour the great subject. The danger to which we are most exposed, is that of severing the Creator from his creatures. The propensity of human sovereigns to cut off communication between themselves and their subjects, and to disclaim a common nature with their inferiors, has led the multitude of men, who think of God chiefly under the character of a king, to conceive of him as a being, who places bis glory in multiplying distinctions between himself and all other beings. The truth is, that the union between the Creator and the creature, surpasses all other bonds in strength and intimacy. He penetrates all things, and delights to irradiate all with his glory. Nature, in its lowest and inanimate forms, is pervaded by bis power; and when quickened by the mysterious property of life, how wonderfully does it show forth the perfections of its author! How much of God may be seen in the structure of a single leaf, which, though so frail as to tremble in every wind, yet holds connections and living communications with the earth, the air, the clouds, and the distant sun; and, through these sympathies with the universe, is itself a revelation of an omnipotent mind. God delights to diffuse himself everywhere. Through his enërgy, unconscious matter clothes itself with proportions, powers, and beauties which reflect his wisdom and love. How much more must he delight to frame conscious and happy recipients of his perfections, in whom his wisdom and love may substantially dwell, with whom he may form spiritualties, and to whom he may be an everlasting spring of moral energy and happiness.
and happiness. How far the Supreme Being may communicate bis attributes to his intelligent offspring, I stop not to inquire. But that his almighty goodness will impart to them powers and glories, of which
the material universe is but a faint emblem, I cannot doubt. That the soul, if true to itself and its Maker, will be filled with God, and will manifest him, more than that sun, I cannot doubt. Who can doubt it, that believes and understands the doctrine of human immortality?
The views which I have given in this discourse, respecting man's participation of the divine nature, seem to me to receive strong confirmation, from the title or relation most frequently applied to God in the New Testament; and I have reserved this as the last corroboration of this doctrine, because, to my own mind, it is singularly affecting In the New Testament, God is made known to us as a Father, and a brighter feature of that book cannot be named. Our worship is to be directed to him as our Fatber. Our whole religion is to take its character from this view of the Divinity. In this he is to rise always to our minds. And what is it to be a Father? It is to communicate one's own nature, to give life to kindred beings; and the bigbest function of a Father, is to educate the mind of the child, and to impart to it what is noblest and happiest in his own mind. God is our Father, not merely because he created us, or because he gives us enjoyment; for he created the flower and the insect, yet we call him not their Father. This bond is a spiritual one. This name belongs to God, because he frames spirits like bimself, and delights to give them what is most glorious and blessed in his own nature. Accordingly, Christianity is said, with special propriety, to reveal God as the Father, because it reveals him, as sending his Son to cleanse, the mind from every stain, and to replenish it for ever with the spirit and moral attributes of its Author. Separate from God this idea of his creating and training up beings after his own likeness, and you rob bim of the paternal character. This relation vanishes, and with it, vanish the glory of the gospel, and the dearest hopes of the human soul.
The great use wbich I would make of the principles laid down in this discourse, is, to derive from them just and clear views of the nature of religion. What, then, is religion? I answer, it is not the adoration of a God, with whom we have no common properties-of a distinct, foreign, separate being, but of an all-communicating Parent. It recognises and adores God as a being, whom we know through our own souls; who has made man in
bis own image; who is the perfection of our own spiritual nature; who has sympathies with us as kindred beings; who is near us, not in place only like this all-surrounding atmosphere, but by spiritual influence and love; who looks on us with parental interest; and whose great design it is to communicate to us for ever, and in freer and fuller streams, his own power, goodness, and joy. The conviction of this near and ennobling relation of God to the soul, and of his great purposes towards it, belongs to the very essence of true religion; and true religion manifests itself chiefly and most conspicuously in desires, hopes, and efforts, corresponding to this truth. It desires and seeks supremely the assimilation of the mind to God, or the perpetual unfolding and enlargement of those powers and virtues, by which it is constituted his glorious image. The mind, in proportion as it is enlightened and penetrated by true religion, thirsts and labours for a godlike elevation. What else indeed can it seek, if this good be placed within its reach? If I am capable of receiving and reflecting the intellectual and moral glory of my Creator, what else in comparison shall I desire? Shall I deem a property in the outward universe as the highest good, when I may become partaker of the very mind from which it springs, of the prompting love, the disposing wisdom, the quickening power, through which its order, beauty, and beneficent influences subsist? True religion is known by these high aspirations, hopes, and efforts. And this is the religion which most truly honours God. To honour him, is not to trenable before him as an unapproachable sovereign, nor to utter barren praise, which leaves us as it found
us. It is to become what we praise. It is to approach God as an inexbaustible Fountain of light, power, and purity. It is to feel the quickening and transforming energy of his perfections. It is to thirst for the growth and invigoration of the divine principle within us. It is to seek the very spirit of God. It is to trust in, to bless, to thank him, for that rich grace, mercy, love, which was revealed and proffered by Jesus Christ, and which proposes as its great end, the perfection of the human soul.
I regard this view of religion as infinitely important. It does more than all things to make our connection with our Creator ennobling and happy; and in proportion as we want it, there is danger that the thought of God may itself become the instrument of our degradation. That
religion has been so dispensed as to depress the human mind, I need not tell you; and it is a truth, which ought to be known, that the greatness of the Deity, when separated in our thoughts from his parental character, especially tends to crush human energy and hope. To a frail dependent creature, an omnipotent Creator easily becomes a terror, and his worship easily degenerates into servility, flattery, self-contempt, and selfish calculation. Religion only ennobles us, in as far as it reveals to us the tender and intimate connection of God with his creatures, and teaches us to see in the very greatness which might give alarm, the source of great and glorious communica.. tions to the human soul. You cannot, my bearers, think too highly of the majesty of God. But let not this majesty sever him from you. Remember, that his greatness is the infinity of attributes which yourselves possess. Adore his infinite wisdom; but remember, that this wisdom rejoices to diffuse itself, and let an exhilarating hope spring up, at the thought of the immeasurable intelligence which such a Father must communicate to his children. In like manner, adore his power. Let the boundless creation fill: you with awe and admiration of the energy wbich sustains. it. But remember, that God has a nobler work than the outward creation, even the spirit within yourselves; and that it is his purpose to replenish this with his own energy, and to crown it with growing power and triumphs over the material universe. Above all, adore his unutterable goodness. But remember, that this attribute is particularly proposed to you as your model; that God calls
you, both by nature and revelation, to a fellowship in his philanthropy; that he has placed you in social relations, for the very end of rendering you ministers and representatives of his benevolence; that he even summons you to espouse and to advance the sublimest purpose of his goodness, the redemption of the human race, by extending the knowledge and power of Christian truth. It is through such views, that religion raises up the soul, and binds man by ennobling bonds to his Maker.
To complete my views of this topic, I beg to add an important caution. I have said, that the great work of religion is to conform ourselves to God, or to unfold the divine likeness within us. Let none infer from this language, that I place religion in unnatural effort, in straining after excitements which do not belong to the present state,
or in any thing separate from the clear and simple duties of life. I exhort you to no extravagance. I reverence human nature too much to do it violence. I see too much divinity in its ordinary operations, to urge on it a forced and vehement virtue. To grow in the likeness of God, we need not cease to be men. This likeness does not consist in extraordinary or miraculous gifts, in supernatural additions to the soul, or in any thing foreign to our origi, nal constitution, but in our essential faculties, unfolded by vigorous and conscientious exertion in the ordinary circumstances assigned by God. To resemble our Creator, we need not fly from society, and entrance ourselves in lonely contemplation and prayer. Such processes might give a feverish strength to one class of emotions, but would result in disproportion, distortion, and sickliness of mind. Our proper work is to approach God by the free and natural unfolding of our highest powers of understanding, conscience, love, and the moral will.
Shall I be told, that, by such language, I ascribe to nature the effects which can only be wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit? I anticipate this objection, and wish to meet it by a simple exposition of my views. I would on no account disparage the gracious aids and influences, which God imparts to the human soul. The promise of the Holy Spirit is among the most precious in the sacred volume.' Worlds could not tempt me to part with the doctrine of God's intimate connection with the mind, and of his free and full communications to it. But these views are in no respect at variance with what I have taught of the method by which we are to grow in the likeness of God. Scripture and experience concur in teaching, that by the Holy Spirit, we are to understand a divine assistance adapted to our moral freedom, and accordant with the fundamental truth, that virtue is the mind's own work. By the Holy Spirit, I understand an aid, which must be gained and made effectual by our own activity; an aid, which no more interferes with our faculties, than the assistance which we receive from our fellow-beings; an aid, which silently mingles and conspires with all other helps and means of goodness; an aid, by which we unfold our natural powers in a natural order, and by which we are strengthened to understand and apply the resources derived from our munificent Creator. This aid we cannot prize too much, or pray for too earnestly. But wherein,