I must say I see little of this spirit among Unitarians : there is much laudable effort to make things a little better, but no surrender to principle, no inclination to take life in hand and count it well spent and lost in devotion to an idea. I cannot discover that they have in mind any world-transforming principle or grand idea. Goodness, righteousness, brotherhood are often enough on their lips, — I cannot see that they mean much by them. For morality surely is not simply what is left of the old religions, after their dogmas are given up. To make morality the basis of a religious movement does not mean that the souls of men shall be fed with a few kind feelings or good habits, adding perhaps, for the sake of novelty, a philanthropy or two. No ! morality is nothing save as it is vastly more than this; and philanthropies are nothing save as they are incidents of a thought that takes not this or that special good, but all good in its grasp. What we want is a sight of principles; to aim not at the better, but at the best; to fear not to make the rule of a perfect life the rule of everyday ; to bring the glory and sanctity of heaven here on the earth. How do our lives stand with the moral law; how will our treatment of one another in our business, our homes, bear the reflection of the white searching light of truth and justice ? Do we ever take advantage of the weakness or the ignorance of another ? Do we ever gain anything by another's losing ? Do we ever profit by lies, by false representations ? Do we ever excuse ourselves by saying they are necessary ? Has shame gone out of us when we have done a wrong thing, an impure thing ? Do we divert or amuse ourselves, when we might better be doing penance ? Ah, think not that in acknowledging morality you are taking up with an easy master! It indeed nowise limits or offends our reason, but it imposes no light or transient obligations on the will and life. It has a grave face ; its joys are severe;1 it makes no promises, and will not be served for ease, pleasure, or any personal good. It may command the renunciation of all these; it may once more speak to the world as it did through Jesus, and say that neither father nor mother nor wife nor child, nor any station or business or prosperity in life, shall be so dear as itself. I know that it means order, that it involves the general good, the universal happiness; but it does not mean the order of any particular stage of society, nor a good or goods which one class of men share and another do not, nor my happiness nor your happiness save in so far as they are a part of the universal happiness. Morality may destroy as well as build; it may uproot as well as plant; it may say with Channing of a social order which blesses a few and rests on the depression of the many, Let it perish!1 Morality means the good of all; moral questions are largely social questions; and there has scarcely been a man, to my knowledge, among Unitarians who has addressed himself in the spirit of Channing to the social questions, or even repeated his words : nay, they sometimes even have said that their great leader was over-sensitive, and that he had an almost morbid vision of moral evil.2
1 " Res severa est verum gaudium".
When I say Unitarianism demands too little of us on the practical side, I do not mean that it does not undertake a few more charities, nor that it is not benevolent, humane, philanthropic, as those words go, but that it does not call on us to create a new heaven and a new earth; that it does not appeal to the infinite side of human nature; that its enthusiasm only matches with the tasks it proposes, — for example, putting churches in University towns, endowing theological schools, building denominational houses and club-rooms, and supporting old churches whose natural lives seem to be already spent.
A great work comes only out of a great thought, and I do not discover any such great thought in Unitarianism. Think of the growth of early Christianity, of those first three centuries when the Church moved, as has been said,1 with the pace of a goddess, conquering and to conquer! It was not force that was the secret of her victory; it was not schools, it was not churches, nor bishops, nor bibles ; it was not even the sweet tale of the life, nor the tragic story of the death, of the man of Nazareth; no, nor the innocent myth of his triumphant resurrection and ascension: it was something back of and above all this, — it was the grand thought of the " kingdom of God." In the larger proportions of that idea Jesus got his sanctity, from it churches derived their strength, in it a longing world found satisfaction and redemption. That idea was nothing but a dream of the perfect: worship went thither, love and tears mingled at the thought of such a consummation, death itself was holy when beyond it men saw the eternal splendors. Do you wonder when I say that no less great a thought than this can produce another religion, — something encompassing life and sanctifying death; something making us despise the world as we see it and long for a better ; something awakening worship again, stirring love and tears and song and joy ? Yet I believe it. Man cannot thrive on petty plans. He must have something before him as great as his grandest thought of the possible ; nothing but the perfect, nothing but a perfect society, an ideal fellowship, a "City of the Light," can satisfy him. It is not necessary that he hope actually to witness the final triumph, — it is enough, I believe, that he can think of it; that something of the glory of it may descend upon him as he toils for it; that the labors of his hands have an eternal issue there. " Though we die," said a recently condemned Nihilist, " we have bright hopes." He did not ask to see the nobler political and social order that he believed was to come; it was enough for him that it would come, and that he could give his life for it: nay, in thought he could leap across the years that separated him from it, and cry, as if standing even then in the midst of an emancipated fatherland, "Long live the Russian Republic!" Can we not so think and speak of the grander republic, the Commonwealth of Man, the universal society, wherein " the perfect Right doth reign," — which the heart and conscience and reason unite in demanding as the end and consummation of the whole course of human history, the outcome of the toils and struggles of all the generations of men ? What matters it if it is far on in the distant future, — can our thought be prevented from leaping out to it ? And can we not even now take our stand in imagination with it, trying our actual lives and institutions by it, and finding rest and contentment only as we know that we and the world are going on toward the perfect goal ? Not from Unitarianism, not from Christianity, has come the song that best utters and almost chants this thought. It is from Felix Adler, upon whom, I sometimes think, more than upon any other man of our day, the mantle and prophetic spirit of Channing have fallen, and whose words, I almost believe, are those which Jesus himself would utter, should he come and put his solemn thought and passion into the language of to-day: —
1 Works (one vol. ed.), p. 32.
2 Cf. Prof. J. H. Allen's " Our Liberal Movement in Theology " (p. 51), — a book, it should be added, giving a remarkably candid review of the history of Unitarianism.
1 John Henry Newman.