William Ellery Channing

Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used, not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves.
God deliver us all from prejudice and unkindness, and fill us with the love of truth and virtue.

William Ellery Channing (April 7 1780October 2 1842) was the foremost Unitarian theologian and preacher in the United States in the early nineteenth century.

For the Transcendentalist poet, see: William Ellery Channing (poet)

QuotesEdit

I see the marks of God in the heavens and the earth, but how much more in a liberal intellect, in magnanimity, in unconquerable rectitude, in a philanthropy which forgives every wrong, and which never despairs of the cause of Christ and human virtue.
There are seasons, in human affairs, of inward and outward revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for. There are periods when...to dare, is the highest wisdom.
I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven.
  • We honor revelation too highly to make it the antagonist of reason, or to believe that it calls us to renounce our highest powers.
    • "Unitarian Christianity", an address to The First Independent Church of Baltimore (5 May 1819).
  • We do, then, with all earnestness, though without reproaching our brethren, protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. "To us," as to the Apostle and the primitive Christians, "there is one God, even the Father." With Jesus, we worship the Father, as the only living and true God. We are astonished, that any man can read the New Testament, and avoid the conviction, that the Father alone is God.
    • "Unitarian Christianity", an address to The First Independent Church of Baltimore (5 May 1819).
  • The office of government is not to confer happiness, but to give men opportunity to work out happiness for themselves.
    • Review of The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1827) by Sir Walter Scott, in the Christian Examiner (September - October 1827).
  • I affirm, and would maintain, that true religion consists in proposing, as our great end, a growing likeness to the Supreme Being. Its noblest influence consists in making us more and more partakers of the Divinity. For this it is to be preached. Religious instruction should aim chiefly to turn men's aspirations and efforts to that perfection of the soul, which constitutes it a bright image of God. Such is the topic now to be discussed; and I implore Him, whose glory I seek, to aid me in unfolding and enforcing it with simplicity and clearness, with a calm and pure zeal, and with unfeigned charity.
  • I begin with observing, what all indeed will understand, that the likeness to God, of which I propose to speak, belongs to man's higher or spiritual nature. It has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind. In proportion as these are unfolded by right and vigorous exertion, it is extended and brightened. In proportion as these lie dormant, it is obscured. In proportion as they are perverted and overpowered by the appetites and passions, it is blotted out. In truth, moral evil, if unresisted and habitual, may so blight and lay waste these capacities, that the image of God in man may seem to be wholly destroyed.
    • "Likeness to God", an address in Providence, Rhode Island (1828).
  • Likeness to God is the supreme gift. He can communicate nothing so precious, glorious, blessed, as himself. To hold intellectual and moral affinity with the Supreme Being, to partake his spirit, to be his children by derivations of kindred excellence, to bear a growing conformity to the perfection which we adore, this is a felicity which obscures and annihilates all other good.
    It is only in proportion to this likeness, that we can enjoy either God or the universe.
    • "Likeness to God", an address in Providence, Rhode Island (1828).
  • I see the marks of God in the heavens and the earth, but how much more in a liberal intellect, in magnanimity, in unconquerable rectitude, in a philanthropy which forgives every wrong, and which never despairs of the cause of Christ and human virtue. I do and I must reverence human nature... I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.
    • "Likeness to God", an address in Providence, Rhode Island (1828).
  • There are seasons, in human affairs, of inward and outward revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for. There are periods when...to dare, is the highest wisdom.
    • The Union (1829).
  • I call that mind free, which masters the senses, which protects itself against animal appetites, which contemns pleasure and pain in comparison to its own energy, which penetrates beneath the body and recognises its own reality and greatness, which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.
    I call that mind free, which escapes the bondage of matter, which, instead of stopping at the material universe and making it a prison wall, passes beyond it to its Author, and finds in the radiant signatures which everywhere bears of the Infinite Spirit, helps to its own spiritual enlightenment.
    I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven.
    I call that mind free, which sets no bounds to its love, which is not imprisoned in itself or in a sect, which recognises in all human beings the image of God and the rights of his children, which delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering wherever they are seen, which conquers pride, anger, and sloth, and offers itself up a willing victim to the cause of mankind.
  • I have insisted on our own activity as essential to our progress; but we were not made to live or advance alone. Society is as needful to us as air or food. A child doomed to utter loneliness, growing up without sight or sound of human beings, would not put forth equal power with many brutes; and a man, never brought into contact with minds superior to his own, will probably run one and the same dull round of thought and action to the end of llfe.
    It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds, and these invaluable means of communication are in the reach of all. In the best books great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. God be thanked for books. They are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. Books are true levelers. They give to all, who will faithfully use them, the society, the spiritual presence, of the best and greatest of our race.
  • The path to perfection is difficult to men in every lot; there is no royal road for rich or poor. But difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict. And how much has it already overcome! Under what burdens of oppression has it made its way for ages What mountains of difficulty has it cleared! And with all this experience, shall we say that the progress of the mass of men is to be despaired of; that the chains of bodily necessity are too strong and ponderous to be broken by the mind; that servile, unimproving drudgery is the unalterable condition of the multitude of the human race?
    • "Self-Culture", an address in Boston (September 1838).
  • All noble enthusiasms pass through a feverish stage, and grow wiser and more serene.
    • Emancipation (1840).
  • The mind, in proportion as it is cut off from free communication with nature, with revelation, with God, with itself, loses its life, just as the body droops when debarred from the air and the cheering light from heaven.
    • "Remarks on the Character and Writings of Fénelon" (1843).
  • Undoubtedly some men are more gifted than others, and are marked out for more studious lives. But the work of such men is not to do others' thinking for them, but to help them to think more vigorously and effectually. Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves. The light and life which spring up in one soul are to be spread far and wide. Of all treasons against humanity, there is no one worse than his, who employs great intellectual force to keep down the intellect of his less-favoured brother.
    • "Lectures On The Elevation Of The Labouring Portion Of The Community: Lecture II", in The Works of William Ellery Channing, D.D. (1844) Vol. III, p. 81.
  • "Whatever you may suffer, speak the truth. Be worthy of the entire confidence of your associates. Consider what is right as to what must be done. It is not necessary that you should keep your property, or even your life, but it is necessary that you should hold fast your integrity."
    • Memoir of William Ellery Channing: With Extracts from His Correspondence and Manuscripts (1848), Vol. II. Part III. Chapter VII: Home Life

War (1816)Edit

An address to the Congregational Ministers of Massachussetts, Boston (1816)
  • The influence of war on the community at large, on its prosperity, its morals, and its political institutions, though less striking than on the soldiery, is yet baleful. How often is a community impoverished to sustain a war in which it has no interest?
  • War is to be ranked among the most dreadful calamities which fall on a guilty world; and, what deserves consideration, it tends to multiply and perpetuate itself without end. It feeds and grows on the blood which it sheds. The passions, from which it springs, gain strength and fury from indulgence.
  • One of the great springs of war may be found in a very strong and general propensity of human nature, in the love of excitement, of emotion, of strong interest; a propensity which gives a charm to those bold and hazardous enterprises which call forth all the energies of our nature. No state of mind, not even positive suffering, is more painful than the want of interesting objects. The vacant soul preys on itself, and often rushes with impatience from the security which demands no effort, to the brink of peril.
  • Another powerful principle of our nature, which is the spring of war, is the passion for superiority, for triumph, for power. The human mind is aspiring, impatient of inferiority, and eager for preeminence and control.
  • A genuine, enlightened patriot discerns, that the welfare of his own country is involved in the general progress of society; and, in the character of a patriot, as well as of a Christian, he rejoices in the liberty and prosperity of other communities, and is anxious to maintain with them the relations of peace and amity.
  • We need not war to awaken human energy. There is at least equal scope for courage and magnanimity in blessing, as in destroying mankind. The condition of the human race offers inexhaustible objects for enterprise, and fortitude, and magnanimity. In relieving the countless wants and sorrows of the world, in exploring unknown regions, in carrying the arts and virtues of civilization to unimproved communities, in extending the bounds of knowledge, in diffusing the spirit of freedom, and especially in spreading the light and influence of Christianity, how much may be dared, how much endured!

Slavery (1835)Edit

Full text online]
  • No judgment can be just or wise, but that which is built on the conviction of the paramount worth and importance of duty. This is the fundamental truth, the supreme law of reason; and the mind which does not start from this, in its inquiries into human affairs, is doomed to great, perhaps fatal error. The right is the supreme good, and includes all other goods. In seeking and adhering to it, we secure our true and only happiness. All prosperity, not founded on it, is built on sand.
  • There are times when the assertion of great principles is the best service a man can render society. The present is a moment of bewildering excitement, when men's minds are stormed and darkened by strong passions and fierce conflicts; and also a moment of absorbing worldliness, when the moral law is made to bow to expediency, and its high and strict requirements are denied, or dismissed as metaphysical abstractions or impracticable theories. At such a season, to utter great principles without passion, and in the spirit of unfeigned and universal good-will, and to engrave them deeply and durably on men's minds, is to do more for the world, than to open mines of wealth, or to frame the most successful schemes of policy.
  • The deliberate, solemn conviction of good men through the world, that slavery is a grievous wrong to human nature, will make itself felt. To increase this moral power is every man's duty. To embody and express this great truth is in every man's power; and thus every man can do something to break the chain of the slave.
  • He who cannot see a brother, a child of God, a man possessing all the rights of humanity, under a skin darker than his own, wants the vision of a Christian. He worships the Outward. The spirit is not yet revealed to him. To look unmoved on the degradation and wrongs of a fellow-creature, because burned by a fiercer sun, proves us strangers to justice and love, in those universal forms which characterize Christianity.

Self-Culture (1838)Edit

Full text online
  • Science and art may invent splendid modes of illuminating the apartments of the opulent; but these are all poor and worthless compared with the common light which the sun sends into all our windows, which he pours freely, impartially over hill and valley, which kindles daily the eastern and western sky; and so the common lights of reason, and conscience, and love, are of more worth and dignity than the rare endowments which give celebrity to a few.
  • He who possesses the divine powers of the soul is a great being, be his place what it may. You may clothe him with rags, may immure him in a dungeon, may chain him to slavish tasks. But he is still great.
  • A clear thought, a pure affection, a resolute act of a virtuous will, have a dignity of quite another kind, and far higher than accumulations of brick and granite and plaster and stucco, however cunningly put together.
  • Real greatness has nothing to do with a man’s sphere. It does not lie in the magnitude of his outward agency, in the extent of the effects which he produces. The greatest men may do comparatively little.
  • Grandeur of character lies wholly in force of soul, that is, in the force of thought, moral principle, and love, and this may be found in the humblest condition of life.
  • Many a man, who has gone but a few miles from home, understands human nature better, detects motives and weighs character more sagaciously, than another who has travelled over the known world, and made a name by his reports of different countries. It is force of thought which measures intellectual, and so it is force of principle which measures moral greatness.
  • The greatest man is he who chooses the right with invincible resolution, who resists the sorest temptations from within and without, who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully, who is calmest in storms, and most fearless under menace and frowns, whose reliance on truth, on virtue, on God, is most unfaltering; and is this a greatness which is apt to make a show, or which is most likely to abound in conspicuous station?
  • I have chosen for the subject of this lecture Self-culture, or the care which every man owes to himself, to the unfolding and perfecting of his nature.
  • We are able to discern not only what we already are, but what we may become, to see in ourselves germs and promises of a growth to which no bounds can be set, to dart beyond what we have actually gained to the idea of perfection as the end of our being. It is by this self-comprehending power that we are distinguished from the brutes, which give no signs of looking into themselves. Without this there would be no self-culture, for we should not know the work to be done; and one reason why self-culture is so little proposed is, that so few penetrate into their own nature. To most men, their own spirits are shadowy, unreal, compared with what is outward. When they happen to cast a glance inward, they see there only a dark, vague chaos. They distinguish, perhaps, some violent passion, which has driven them to injurious excess; but their highest powers hardly attract a thought; and thus multitudes live and die as truly strangers to themselves as to countries of which they have heard the name, but which human foot has never trodden.
  • Of all the discoveries which men need to make, the most important, at the present moment, is that of the self-forming power treasured up in themselves. They little suspect its extent, as little as the savage apprehends the energy which the mind is created to exert on the material world.
  • Whoever desires that his intellect may grow up to soundness, to healthy vigor, must begin with moral discipline. Reading and study are not enough to perfect the power of thought. One thing above all is needful, and that is, the disinterestedness which is the very soul of virtue. To gain truth, which is the great object of the understanding, I must seek it disinterestedly. Here is the first and grand condition of intellectual progress. I must choose to receive the truth, no matter how it bears on myself. I must follow it, no matter where it leads, what interests it opposes, to what persecution or loss it lays me open, from what party it severs me, or to what party it allies. Without this fairness of mind, which is only another phrase for disinterested love of truth, great native powers of understanding are perverted and led astray.
  • Intellectual culture consists, not chiefly, as many are apt to think, in accumulating information, though this is important, but in building up a force of thought which may be turned at will on any subjects on which we are called to pass judgment. This force is manifested in the concentration of the attention, in accurate, penetrating observation, in reducing complex subjects to their elements, in diving beneath the effect to the cause, in detecting the more subtle differences and resemblances of things, in reading the future in the present, and especially in rising from particular facts to general laws or universal truths. ... Oone man talks continually about the particular actions of this or another neighbor; whilst another looks beyond the acts to the inward principle from which they spring, and gathers from them larger views of human nature.
  • There is but a very minute portion of the creation which we can turn into food and clothes, or gratification for the body; but the whole creation may be used to minister to the sense of beauty.
  • The greatest truths are wronged if not linked with beauty, and they win their way most surely and deeply into the soul when arrayed in this their natural and fit attire.
  • Get wealth if you can by honorable means, and if it do not cost too much. A true cultivation of the mind is fitted to forward you in your worldly concerns, and you ought to use it for this end. Only, beware lest this end master you; lest your motives sink as your condition improves; lest you fall victims to the miserable passion of vying with those around you in show, luxury, and expense. Cherish a true respect for yourselves. Feel that your nature is worth more than every thing which is foreign to you.
  • Books are the true levelers. They give to all who will faithfully use them the society, the spiritual presence, of the best and greatest of our race. No matter how poor I am. No matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling. If the Sacred Writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, ... I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.
  • ... The past and the present call on you to advance. Let what you have gained be an impulse to something higher. Your nature is too great to be crushed. You were not created what you are, merely to toil, eat, drink, and sleep, like the inferior animals. If you will, you can rise. No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent. Do not be lulled to sleep by the flatteries which you hear, as if your participation in the national sovereignty made you equal to the noblest of your race. You have many and great deficiencies to be remedied; and the remedy lies, not in the ballot-box, not in the exercise of your political powers, but in the faithful education of yourselves and your children. ..

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)Edit

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us with firm and cheerful trust endure all trials, discharge all duties, accept all sacrifices, fulf1ll the law of universal and impartial love, and adopt as our own that cause of truth, righteousness, humanity, liberty, and holiness, — which being the cause of the All-Good, cannot but triumph over all powers of evil. Let us rise into blest assurance that everywhere and forever we are enfolded, penetrated, guarded, guided, kept by the power of the Father and Friend, who can never forsake us; and that all spirits who have begun to seek, know, love, and serve the All-Perfect One on earth shall be reunited in a celestial home, and be welcomed together into the freedom of the universe, and the perpetual light of His presence.
    • P. 17.
  • No other fame can be compared with that of Jesus. He has a place in the human heart, that no one who ever lived has in any measure rivaled. No name is pronounced with a tone of such love and veneration. All other laurels wither before His. His are ever kept fresh with tears of gratitude.
    • P. 60.
  • The sages and heroes of history are receding from us, and history contracts the record of their deeds into a narrow and narrower page. But time has no power over the name and deeds and words of Jesus Christ.
    • P. 61.
  • Other sages have spoken to me of God. But from whom could I have learned the essence of Divine perfection, as from Him, who was in a peculiar sense the Son, representative, and image of God — who was especially an incarnation of the unbounded love of the Father? And from what other teacher could I have learned to approach the Supreme Being with that filial spirit, which forms the happiness of my fellowship with Him? From other seers I might have heard of heaven; but when I behold in Jesus the spirit of heaven, dwelling actually on earth, what a new comprehension have I of that better world!
    • P. 62.
  • The miracles of Christ were studiously performed in the most unostentatious way. He seemed anxious to veil His majesty under the love with which they were wrought.
    • P. 66.
  • Compassionate Saviour! We welcome Thee to our world, We welcome Thee to our hearts. We bless Thee for the Divine goodness Thou hast brought from heaven; for the souls Thou hast warmed with love to man, and lifted up in love to God; for the efforts of divine philanthropy which Thou hast inspired; and for that hope of a pure celestial life, through which Thy disciples triumph over death.
    • P. 85.
  • What a sublime doctrine it is, that goodness cherished now is eternal life already entered on!
    • P. 210.
  • Let us aspire towards this living confidence, that it is the will of God to unfold and exalt without end the spirit that trusts itself to Him in well-doing as to a faithful Creator.
    • P. 239.
  • Do we vividly feel that He is near us as our everlasting Friend, to guide, cheer, and bless our aspirations and our efforts? And in this confidence do we watch, pray, strive, press forward, and seek resolutely for ourselves and fellow-beings the highest end of existence, even the perfection of our immortal souls?
    • P. 277.
  • O, for a voice of power to arouse the human spirit from its death in life of animality, to quicken it with a fit consciousness of its own nature, to lift it to an adequate comprehension of the purposes for which the sublime thoughts of God, of duty, of disinterested love, of heaven are opened within!
    • P. 317.
  • In general, we do well to let an opponent's motives alone. We are seldom just to them. Our own motives on such occasions are often worse than those we assail.
    • P. 420.
  • Religion is faith in an infinite Creator, who delights in and enjoins that rectitude which conscience commands us to seek. This conviction gives a Divine sanction to duty.
    • P. 493.
  • It was religion, which, by teaching men their near relation to God, awakened in them the consciousness of their importance as individuals. It was the struggle for religious rights, which opened their eyes to all their rights. It was resistance to religious usurpation, which led men to withstand political oppression. It was religious discussion, which roused the minds of all classes to free and vigorous thought.
    • P. 498.
  • Contempt of all outward things, which come in competition with duty, fulfills the ideal of human greatness. This conviction, that readiness to sacrifice life's highest material good and life itself, is essential to the elevation of human nature, is no illusion of ardent youth, nor outburst of blind enthusiasm. It does not yield to growing wisdom. It is confirmed by all experience. It is sanctioned by conscience — that universal and eternal lawgiver whose chief dictate is, that every thing must be yielded up for the right.
    • P. 533.
  • Did any man at his death ever regret his conflicts with himself, his victories over appetite, his scorn of impure pleasure, or his sufferings for righteousness' sake?
    • P. 536.
  • The sin that now rises to memory as your bosom sin, let this first of all be withstood and mastered. Oppose it instantly by a detestation of it, by a firm will to conquer it, by reflection, by reason, and by prayer.
    • P. 551.


MisattributedEdit

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Last modified on 19 April 2014, at 10:11