"The inequalities — wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance — of our social condition must be felt to be the allotment of Providence, a wise provision for the greatest happiness of all, before the poor can be regarded with the tenderness and respect they deserve. . . . The Saviour has told us, ' The poor ye have always with you;' and the Christian would not have it otherwise. He learns too many lessons of resignation and faith and hope from the poor; he enjoys too much satisfaction in ministering to their necessities ; he receives too many admonitions to his pride and self-indulgence; he is made to feel his own privileges too gratefully, — to wish that poverty were no longer known on the earth."2
How such a view as this strikes at the root of all deep reform ! How it lulls to rest, — I do not mean to inactivity, but to a feeling that with a little kindness and charity on our part all things are well! How slight a sense does it betray of a great creative responsibility and task intrusted to human society! Do we wonder that Dr. Channing tells us that no sect took less interest than the Unitarian in the slavery question, or was more inclined to conservatism ? 1 " Even in his own parish," says a competent witness, " his message was unheard save by a few. When he asked that the doors of his church might be open for a eulogy to be pronounced upon his beloved friend Dr. Follen, a warm-hearted Abolitionist, by another dear friend Rev. S. J. May, they were rudely shut in his face."2 No wonder that, according to his biographer, such an occurrence led him to question the usefulness of his whole ministry, and to ask to what end had he poured out his soul all those years, if this was the answering conduct on the part of his people. John Quincy Adams even says that Channing was " deserted by his followers," in the later years of his life, and was actually driven from his active pastorate on account of his Antislavery views.1 I do not adduce these things in any spirit of idle criticism or hostility, but simply as showing that to whatever degree of perfection Unitarians may have carried the conventional Christian virtues, — and I believe they have carried them to a high degree, — they have had no deep moral convictions, and have been without a deep moral life.
1 Works (one vol. ed.) p. 98.
2 Sermon before the Boston Young Men's Benevolent Society, by Rev. H. W. Bellows, Dec 9, 1838.
1 Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 394. The passage (from a letter to J. Blanco White) is not given in the one-volume edition published by the American Unitarian Association. It is perhaps worth quoting entire: " I wish I could look to Unitarianism with more hope. But this system was, at its recent revival, a protest of the understanding against absurd dogmas, rather than the work of deep religious principle, and was early paralyzed by the mixture of a materialistic philosophy, and fell too much into the hands of scholars and political reformers; and the consequence is a lack of vitality and force, which gives us little hope of its accomplishing much under its present auspices or in its present form. When I tell you that no sect in this country has taken less interest in the slavery question, or is more inclined to conservatism than our body, you will judge what may be expected of it".
2 Oliver Johnson in Channing Centennial Volume, p. 61. Cf. Channing's Life (one vol. ed.), p. 571.
In truth, this might be said of the churches in general during the last hundred years. The highest moral ideas have been conceived, the largest movements of moral life have gone on, outside of them. And the fact is not without connection with the fundamental Christian view of things. In the estimation of the founders of Christianity a judgment was to be accomplished and general justice done by another Power than man ; human beings were to love one another, to be kind and pitiful, and yet justice and the reorganization of society-were too great, too difficult tasks to be assumed by human hands. In its large general features the world was accepted as it is, and a perfect, an ideal order of things was thought to be held in reserve for us. The noblest exercises of Christian piety have been in longing, praying, preparing oneself for that future kingdom. The present age is waking up to another thought. It is not inclined to accept the order of human life as it is, but to try it and test it by a thought of what it ought to be; to see whether it meets the wants, the rights of human beings and of all human beings. It is mightily inclined to believe, too, that the satisfaction of these wants and the doing justice to those rights need not be delayed to a future world, but may be undertaken here, and that by no other power than ourselves. This thought was at the basis of the French Revolution ; it lies at the heart of all the social unrest of our time. I believe, indeed, that it makes a seed-thought for a new religion: already we hear more idealism, higher ethics, yes, more faith from the social reformers of our time than from almost any other class of men. The modern world is tired of hearing of the " kingdom of heaven;" and if one insists on putting any good thought he has under that old-time form, it passes him by. What it wants is a plan of justice; what it wants is a searching and trying of all our institutions by that ideal standard; what it wants is a company of men who will make that plan an object of religion, and vow loyalty to it for life and death.
1 See Adams's published Diaries, and the comment thereon in the Unitarian Review, August, 1881, p. 151.