A Confession of Faith

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William Henry Channing

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To publish a Credo, may well seem to imply pretension or dullness; for the guesses of a creature whose existence is bounded to a speck, limited to a moment, must be folly. Such a publication, too, subjects one to the charge of cant on some sides and heresy on others, and has this difficulty attending it, that no selection of words and phrases can make a meaning so plain as not to be misapprehended. And yet in these Babel times of various isms, it is but fair and courteous, that every one who offers himself in any sense as a guide, should point out the direction in which he aims to lead. Pledging myself, then, to no other consistency than conviction, and hoping, year by year, month by month, and day by day, to gain juster views, I am ready to confess that, briefly sketched, and without completeness or scientific accuracy, my present faith is as follows:


I believe,

1. That the Infinite, Eternal, all-blessed Being, who alone is God, from essential love, through ideas of truth, puts forth benign and beautiful creative power from everlasting to everlasting;

2. That, in harmonious series of existences, endless in numbers and varities, and sublimely related by successive growths, mutual dependence and analogy, he manifests his perfections in forever brighter glory;

3. That, through systems on systems, and worlds on worlds, he crowns his creations by giving birth to hosts of spirits, destined originally, through revelations, for ever brightening, to grow up in his likeness, and, by interchanges of good, to be united into families of immortal children, imaging in the heavens their holy Father;

4. That these spirits are born in races, the individuals of which are organised by transmitted qualities into living wholes, and occupy, upon the globes where they find their school, the position of mediators between the temporal and eternal worlds—through animal natures which concentrate the excellencies of lower creations, communing with the harmonies of the universe—through souls receiving inspiration of love and truth and beauty, from God—through powers of rational volition, and in intercourse with fellow-spirits recombining these influences, and diffusing them for the formation of society and the perfecting of nature; and, by this alternate action and reaction, assimilating life in perpetual new-birth.


I believe,

1. That the human race, upon this earth, thus constituted of nations and men, thus placed between God’s inspiration and nature’s limited forms of good, thus endowed with free intelligence, is led by Providence through a discipline, of which the past is the history and the present the experience, filled as it is with prophecy of a future, which, in the fullness of time, shall actualize its ideal;

2. That, in the process of this destined growth from instinctive harmonies to conscious and chosen conformity to God and good spirits, and the union thence ensuing, which is immortality, mankind have, through causes acting from past ages, and originating in themselves, yielded too much to the impressions of nature; allowed the excessive development of the animal passions; exaggerated the element of self; confused the judgments, weakened the power of the spiritual faculties; broken true society; in various degrees become incapable of receiving life from heaven; and so interrupted the divine order, and introduced depraved social tendencies, diseases, and natural confusions, which react to multiply evil;

3. That the Eternal Father, in whom disinterestedness and rectitude, mercy and justice, are one in unbroken peace, whose action is the unlimited diffusion of good, has never left men to themselves; but has sorrowed in their failures, rejoiced in their successes, forborne with their perverseness, suffered with their sufferings, and, through every means, not violating their reason and prudence—through the beautiful harmonies contrasted with the dread convulsions of nature, through lovely relations amidst monstrous social struggles, through remembrances and anticipations of higher joys, breaking in upon the stern miseries of their self-imposed condition—has infused foreshadows of perfect union in perfect bliss;

4. That the worships and legislations, wars and alliances, colonizations and empires of all ages, have been the steps of this progressive conquest of good over evil, by which mankind have been at once redeemed and educated, and that saints and sages, prophets and poets, heroes of high and humble spheres, martyrs of many grades, the gracious and lovely of all people, are the ministering servants of Providence in this grand work of salvation.


I believe,

1. That, in this ministry of reconciliation, this establishment of religion, in which all families of the race conspire, the Jewish tribes, who combined in singular intenseness high aspiration, stubborn wilfulness, and coarse sensuality, have been used as a centre of spiritual influence, as they were a centre in physical position;

2. That, carefully guarding the purest traditions, profoundly conscious of God’s inspiring presence, sternly announcing the divine law, illustrating in their fortunes his government, even amidst deepest degradation and guilt declaring his promises in glowing visions, they have revealed, as in a symbol, the progress of the human race, from Adam once blessed in Eden, through the woes of selfish division, to the far more blessed reunion of all nations in the city of peace, where God shall dwell with men and be their God;

3. That in the fullness of time, when the civilization of East and West had borne their fruits and were falling into decay, when floods of untamed, vigorous tribes were gathering to oversweep and cover with fresh soil the exhausted nations, when universal man stood watching in mournfulness and longing, was born Jesus; conceived in holiness by a devout mother, cradled in her solemn aspirations, nurtured on the prophetic hopes of his nation and age, filled, in his human nature, with the fullness of a superhuman life, a son of man transfigured by goodness, and made a Son of God—a divine man;

4. That he was commissioned and anointed to be the image of the Father, the Adam of a spiritualized and reunited race, the prophecy of redeemed humanity, the desire of all nations, the way, the truth, the life; and that, by his life and death of perfect self-sacrifice, by his words of inspired wisdom, by his purely disinterested deeds, in the joy of oneness with God and man and nature, he had the glory of founding upon the new commandment, love, the kingdom of Heaven on earth.


I believe,

1. That the reign of Him, who alone is good, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, shall be universal, and shall organize the now warring and scattered nations into one holy society, where justice, wisdom, joy, shall harmonize the external world, and crowd it with countless varieties of beautiful productions;

2. That the central power of this kingdom of Heaven is holiness, the indwelling spirit of God, which ever more brightly reveals its presence in the growing spirituality and humanity of the free, brave, and generous tribes, whom Providence appointed to diffuse this life; ever more visibly organizes their policies and legislations, their philosophies and ethics, their literatures and arts, their modes of social and private action; and is now hastening to mould mankind into communities of devout and loving, wise and earnest, healthful and happy beings, where the ideal of heavenly order may be worthily imaged, and God shall be all in all;

3. That, in the establishment of this heavenly order upon earth, the churches of Christendom have been instrumental as depositories, amid an unreconciled world, of the gospel of peace, as professors and partial practisers of godliness, as imperfect symbols of that society, truly one, holy, and universal, which, in God’s own time and way, shall be visibly organized; but that they have all, in various degrees, been guilty of the great heresy of giving preference to what is of only secondary importance, of substituting speculations for faith, human fallibility for heavenly inspiration, a priesthood of man’s ordination for the ministry of God’s anointing, creeds for charity, prayers for self-sacrifice, rituals for rectitude, and a service of days, places, and forms, for the perpetual worship of souls, becoming united to God, their fellow-spirits, and the universe, through goodness, wisdom, and beauty, continually received and diffused;

4. That the schisms and infidelities, which have resulted as necessary reactions against this heresy, the divisions between church and state, science and revelation, piety and industry, duty and joy, ending as they do in hypocritical asceticism and worldly materialism, and augmenting, as they have and will, the jealousies between man and man, class and class, nation and nation, will never cease till Christians abandon sophistical polemics and sentimental or formal piety, and manifest, in practical affairs, their faith by their works; till, acknowledging God as sovereign and his law of goodness as supreme, they reform their constitutions and treaties, their intercourse and trade, their modes of producing and distributing wealth, their plans of education, their rewards and privileges, their means of elevation and pleasure, their homes and all relations, their characters and lives, after the models of divine righteousness.


I believe,

1. That, as a member of the confederacy of Christendom, these United States have peculiar opportunities and duties; that consecrated by the devout faithfulness of forefathers, whom Providence led to this new-found land—planted at the very season when the vital elements of Europe, Christian love and German freedom, were casting off the oppressions of outgrown usages, and prompting men to seek a more earnest piety and a purer virtue—guided onward through a discipline of toil and poverty and simple habits, through unexampled experiences in social government, and the gradual growth of untried institutions—forced by necessities of condition, by slow-formed convictions, and the tendencies of a whole age, to a declaration of principles, which is the clearest announcement of universal rights, though, unfortunately, not of universal duties, ever made by any people—permitted to expand through an unobstructed, unexhausted, healthful, fertile, and most beautiful country—wondrously composed of representatives from every European state, who bring hither the varied experiences, convictions, manners, tastes, of the whole civilized world, to fuse and blend anew—this nation is manifestly summoned to prove the reality of human brotherhood, and of a worship of the heavenly Father, varied as the relations, grand as the destinies of present existence;

2. That, acknowledging, as we do, our providential mission to fulfil the law of love, and professing, as we do, to encourage each and every member of our communities in the exercise of their inalienable rights, we stand before the face of God and fellow-nations, as guilty of hypocrisy and of a breach of trust;

3. That we deserve the retributions, losses, disgraces, which our savage robberies of the Indians, our cruel and wanton oppressions of the Africans, our unjust habits of white serfdom, our grasping national ambition, our eagerness for wealth, our deceitful modes of external and internal trade, our jealous competitions between different professions and callings, our aping of aristocratic distinctions, our licentiousness and sensuality, our profligate expenditures, public and private, have brought, and will continue to bring upon us;

4. That it behoves our religious bodies, our political parties, our statesmen and philosophers, our scholars and patriots, and all who desire a growing life for themselves or their race, to put aside questions of minor importance, and concentrate their energies upon measures which may remove inhumanity utterly from our land;

5. That our duties will not be done, our ideal will not be fulfilled, till we solve the problem of UNITED INTERESTS, now pressing upon all Christendom; till, within our own borders, we secure for every individual man, woman, child, full culture, under healthy, pure, and holy influences; free exercise of their faculties, for the glory of God and the good of man; recompense for all services that shall be just; such stations of honorable usefulness as their virtues merit, and access to all sources of refinement and happiness which our communities can command—till, in intercourse with other lands, we strive honestly and bountifully to share the blessings which the universal Father gives, and so aid to reunite all nations in one family of the children of God, where his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I do not know that there is one thought or expression in this statement of belief that is original or new; on the contrary, I hope that it may be found an approximation, though necessarily partial and imperfect, to the universal faith of the present. I have studied in many schools, ancient and modern, and have sat at the feet of many teachers, among whom, with especial gratitude, I would mention Coleridge, Fenelon, Herder, Lessing, Carlyle, Cousin, Leroux, Swedenborg, and Fourier. I might add thanks to writers of our own land, more than one, were they not too near to name with praise. To my own mind, this creed, which in future essays I hope to explain and illustrate, casts light upon the controversies long agitated, still continued, between the Spiritualists and Materialists, the Theists and Pantheists, the Trinitarians and Unitarians, the Supernaturalists and Naturalists, the advocates of the visible and those of the invisible Church, and connects religious faith and duty, vitally and intimately, with the actual experience of our age and land. But I cannot reasonably hope that these views will seem equally satisfactory to other minds; nor should I desire it. The doctrines of this statement which have been most interesting to me are—the unity of the human race—the threefold life of man—Jesus Christ as the divine type of glorified humanity—the kingdom of Heaven on earth—the duty of this nation to establish united interests. May this confession be a means of inciting others, whose results would be truly valuable, to like frankness. Errors even, sincerely exposed, are instructive. In these times of division, we may well call to one another, “Watchman, what of the night?” Let all declare, as they best can, the signs of promise. “Beautiful” to-day, as for ever, shall be “upon the mountains the feet of those who bring glad tidings, who publish peace.”

  • William Henry Channing, “A Confession of Faith,” The Present 1, no. 1 (September 1843): 6-10.