Christian Socialists

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William Henry Channing

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THE TERMS.

Formal titles, catch-words, cant-phrases, are distasteful to all who have breathed in the Spirit of the Age; for this seeks only and always renewal, free thought, fresh speech, spontaneous, genial, varied goodness. Yet formulas may be both timely and useful; they are so when in sending out the first number of a Periodical, it seems the part of wisdom and honor briefly and distinctly to define the ground taken on the central subjects of human interest. At an hour so eventful, no one would pretend to be a guide, without firm conviction, or at least bright glimpses of truth.

Why combine two words, so often arrayed in systematic opposition as Christian and Socialist?

Because Heaven and Humanity demand that Christians and Socialists shall be one.

True Christianity is Social; True Socialism is Christian. Religion and Politics are as indispensable as Spirit and Body. Divine Love is the Religion,—Human Love is the Politics—which Christendom is destined to make perfectly at one in collective and individual life. Thus only will it realize its idea of Divine Humanity.

II. INFIDELITY.

PROFESSED AND PRACTICAL.

Is it denied, that many Socialists in Europe and America are professed unbelievers in Christianity, as generally taught and exemplified, that they seek the overturn of ecclesiastical institutions, orders, organizations, funds, forms, usages, as an indispensable condition of social reform; that they wish to sweep away in a flood of ridicule Church-creeds and ceremonies as the mere rubbish of ruined superstition? It is not denied, but frankly acknowledged; acknowledged with sorrow, but without surprise.

How shall the hatred, which these men Beem to feel nnd manifest for what others—their equals or superiors—cherish as the life of life, be explained? Anathemas are not explanations; reproaches give no account of the conduct they condemn; general charges of "depravity," "insanity," infernal malice," &c, are worthless for all ends of intelligent appreciation. To hunt down virtuous and vicious, learned nnd ignorant, together, under a huo and cry of "m infidel," "radical," &c, is paltry persecution, and vain as it is mean. Above all. it is a most childish device to escape the censure, which Christians of every communion feel that they righteously merit, by pouring volleys of excommunication on the critics of the Church. Doubtless, in corporate bodies, as in single persons, conscience can be lulled to sleep by opiates of self-complacency, even under the loudest thunders of judgment. -But is Ood mocked by man's self-delusion? Does not the head of the Church know—as his purest disciples, certainly as his adversaries can not know—that Christendom is even now unchristian, that it has never yet been Christianized?

The explanation of professed unbelief among Socialists is to be found in the practical unfaithfulness of professed Christians. Conscience intuitively recognizes the proof of a principle in its use. t: By their fruits shall ye know them," is the righteous test of institutions and individuals, yesterday, to-day. altad forever, on earth and in heaven. Now, sweet in sanctifying power as have been through all Christian lands, the lives of holy and humane believers, and green the paths however rough, beneath their steps of gentle wisdom, yet undeniably thus far, in every age, there arc the exceptions; heathen need never blush when measured by the average standard of character and conduct among Christians. By craft and hardness, intrigue and love of away, by lawless lusts and uncurbed tempers, many a churchgoer habitually violates good faith, decency, humanity and honor, in ways which might shock a Bedouin of the desert, or a South Sea islander. And when we pass from private to public manifestations of Christianity, the case is no wise mended. The earnest scholar recognizes with grateful awe the transforming energy which flows upon Mankind, in ever fuller measure, from the life of Christ; and with assured hope anticipates a time, When communities, nations, the race, shall become transfigured by the indwelling glory of God. But. it must be confessed, that looked at on a large scale, through long periods, over wide regions, the Christian Church—under all past modes of organization, Catholic and Protestant.—excepting of course the Primitive —does appear to have been a foe as much as a friend to human progress. Has she not sat like a queen on high places, clothed in purple and fine linen, sumptuously fed, luxuriously attended, while her so called children were perishing amid squalor, nakedness and want? Has she not proved herself the upholder of tyrants quite as much as a redeemer of the oppressed, a tax gatherer of the poor as much as an almoner 1 Has she not laid heavy yokes on conscience and reason, crowded with captives her bastiles of bigotry, silenced the prophets, blinded the seers, as often as she has confronted hoary abuses, stormed the strong hold of wrong, poured light on the low streams of ignorance and heralded reform? In strict truth, such statements err on the side of tamencsa rather than of severity. What honest historian dreams of concealing facts so notorious as the past corruptions of the Church! What sincere follower of Him, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, is not humbled with shame at its present shortcomings.

Is it a matter of surprise, however much we may feel sorrow, that the People—tantalized by promises of future good, while fainting under present burdens,—disgusted at the word "patience,"—"patience" from those who propped on soft oushions nnd riding at ease, look down on dusty, foot-sore wayfarers with ill-concealed contempt—moved in the blindness of despair mistake the white-washed sanctimoniousness of -respectable" Christians for Christianity itself? Is it matter of surprise that Reformers—finding their best efforts hindered rather than helped by those, who as professed ministers of the All-Good would be the leaders of the people—taught by frequent experience that ecclesiastical politicians but too often surpass secular politicians in unscrupulousness—painfully and perpetually reminded that throughout Christendom the most prejudiced upholders of dead conventions are found among the clergy—should come at length to attribute the Hike-warm charity, the tearfulness and degrading suspicions of these christened churchmen to a radical weakness in the Christian Church? Ought we not rather to be surprised, that the disciples of one, whose every word and act were a protest against exclusiveness and a prophecy of mutualism, should not long since have put away all risks of popular corruption by effective measures for popular improvement? Indeed, it is surprising, that any reader of the New Testament should foil to take to heart that pungent "Parable of the Two Sons"—who when commanded by their father to go into the field alternately answered "I will not." and "I go Sir," yet in turn contradicted the word by the act. Is not the question pertinent to-day as of old, "Which now of the twain did the Kill of his father?"

III. THE OVERPLUS OF FAITH

Sad as is the spectacle of professed, much more of practical infidelity throughout Christendom, yet the Age is bright with cheering auguries. The Spirit of Humanity is at work in all classes, soothing jealousies, softening callous hearts, breathing in forgiveness, tolerance, respect, and every where preparing for a Real Reformation alike of Church and State.

The very infidels of our generation arc Christians in principle and purpose t6 a degree that astonishes themselves Won irresistibly by the benignant loveliness of the Son of Man they cry "reverence the Master of us all." Their keenest weapons, wherewith to attack social evils, are drawn from Christ's armory of Good Will The banner, that guides their hosts, is blazoned with Christ's motto of Fraternity. They prove themselves Christ's "friends," by his unfailing standard, obedience to the New Commandment. Their ideal of life is Christ's accomplished Gospel of Universal Love. Undeniably in their person and methods they arc yet 'rude; but their mountains of pride are falling, their valleys of meanness rise, and in the deserts of their neglected spirits is made ready a highway for the Lord.

Quite as encouraging are the signs that this spring-breath of Humanity is mellowing the most frost-bound formalists. A pretended spirituality, which shows itself to be merely sentimental, or which is manifested chiefly in negative or restrictive acts, is becoming odious to all persons of plain good-sense and unperverted feeling, however habituated to pietism. They recognise in it that very "leaven of the Pharisees " which Christ denounced as hypocrisy. The thought is every where taking substantial shape, that just, humane and pure conditions are as nearly allied to spiritual health, as sanity of body is to sanity of mind. Churchmen emulate Come-outers in active reforms. And even they, who hold it blasphemy to hope for a heaven upon earth, yet see that heavenly-mindedness is never fostered by keeping up a hell. In a word, still rife as is infidelity, there is a rapidly augmenting overplus of faith.

IV. THE CALL TO CHRISTENDOM.

What now says the Spirit of the Age to all Christendom? No single voice can worthily utter its message, and a life of love throughout confederated nations can alone embody its promise. Yet any one who will listen can catch in part and in part respond to its angel-song of "Glory.

"Lift up your hearts, ye people! be not afraid, ye privileged! it says, "for ye are not alone; countless ministrations are around and among you; you live the life of the Eternal Father by incessant mediations. Christ is risen, and is alive forevermore—and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord; Humanity in heaven animates like a soul the body of Humanity on earth; Christendom is as heart and lungs to the wide-spreading nations, and the head of Christendom is God in Man; a Divine influence is evermore entering the race and molding it after the Divine image; and all progress moral, intellectual, physical, is the growth of this Heavenly Humanity. Surely as the sun rises from dawn to noon, and seasons ripen from spring to summer, so surely shall the destiny of Adam's children culminate on this planet, when a beautified earth shall be recovered Eden, and in the City of Peace, God and the Lamb shall shine on his people with perpetual light. From Heaven on Earth shall open swift and easy access to Heaven in Heaven.

"Meanwhile Churchmen! Statesmen! be up and doing, cheer-' fully, uncompromisingly, strong in your trust in God and in Man. Hold nothing common or unclean, which Providence assigns as a duty, a lesson, a pleasure. Aim at no lower end than the sanctification of all human relations. Reform your works and your worship, by peaceful progress, proportioning your efforts to your growing power. Seek to learn and apply universally the Laws of Divine Order. Dream not, for an instant, of resting content with the successes of the past; the past lives in the circulations of the present. Know that a New Era has opened in Christendom; that a New Church is descending, that a New State is preparing, like a bride adorning herself for a husband. The New Church is Divine Love flowing in as holiness; the New State is Human Love rising up as brotherhood. The piety of this church will be charitable; the charity of this state will be pious. In religion and politics alike, Christendom has passed through its ages of simple unity, and division; now comes its age of composite re-union It has tried Hierarchy and Individualism; it is ready now for Collective Mediation; it has tried Monarchical constraint and Democratic misrule, it is ready now for the True Aristocracy, at once loyal and free, of Co-operation; it has tried the supremacy of the Church over the State, of the State over the Church, and their diverced independence, it is ready now for their marriage in mutual honor.

Christian-socialism is the name briefly symbolizing these commands and prophecies. The formula that sums up this creed of active goodness is Unity Of Church And State In Communal, National, Universal Life. And they who labor for such sublime ends are Christian-socialists.


  • William Henry Channing, “Christian Socialists,” The Spirit of the Age 1, no. 1 (July 7, 1849): 8-10.