The Collected Works of Theodore Parker/Volume 02/Notice

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The present volume contains a reprint of two books hitherto separately printed, viz. 1st, "Ten Sermons of Religion," first published by Theodore Parker in 1852, and now reprinted from the latest edition of 1859. 2nd, A collection of Prayers, taken down by shorthand, and printed since Mr Parker's death.

The Editor has thought well to place these Sermons and Prayers together, for the purpose of forming a volume which shall represent the more peculiarly devotional side of their author's mind, and which, it is trusted, will supply many readers with that assistance to higher thoughts and holier feelings, of which even the best and strongest souls often experience the need, and now find only supplied by the popular religious literature, in conjunction with dogmas they are compelled at every step to reject. Nay more, it has been deemed right to place thus prominently among Parker's Works that portion of them which affords the best testimony of their essentially religious, no less than philosophic, character. Theism is a Positive, not a Negative creed; a Faith to mould the heart and rule the life, as well as supply to the intellect a rational system of theology. Too long has the necessity for clearing space for the future temple amid the forest of existing superstitions made it seem that the work of our neologians begun and ended with the destruction of error. Too long have those whose minds have been emancipated from the fetters, accepted with most blameworthy acquiescence the sentence of their orthodox antagonists, and submitted to abandon, along with the doctrines of the popular creed, the vivid inner life of prayer and love, whose gate was in truth opened wider than ever for their entrance. It is time that we should recognize that Free Thought should only be the fore-runner of Free Feeling; that having dismissed all dogmas injurious to the Divine Justice and Goodness, we should give to God the undivided loyalty of our consciences ; and that having ceased to pray idle and hopeless prayers for deliverance from His beneficent physical laws, we should approach the Father of Spirits, with those spiritual aspirations we are assured it is His will to bless. To relinquish the popular creed and become a Theist is not to relinquish one single ray of Divine light. It is, on the contrary, to see rolled away from our sky every cloud which hid from us the Sun of Righteousness, henceforth and for. ever to shine down with unshaded glory upon our hearts. Shall we remain cold and senseless under those kindling rays? Shall those men love God and pray to Him continually, before whose minds He appears a dreadful Being, purposing to cast millions into eternal fire ; and shall we, who see in Him the just and merciful Father of all, be for ever cold and dumb?

Let us trust that the work of clearing space for the Church of the future will never again wholly absorb the labourers, but that, like Parker, each one will be not only a Reformer, but a Minister of Religion—a "Great Heart," not only able to demolish the dread Castle of Despair, but also to help all weaker pilgrims towards the Celestial City.

The Sermons contained in this volume appear especially suited to inspire that trustful, loving religious spirit which their author possessed in such full measure, and which is essentially the true spirit of Theism. Few will be able to read these discourses without feeling that they breathe an atmosphere of sunshine and calm, such as rarely, if ever, pervades the thoughts of other theologians. There is no need to bid us here believe that " Religion is not a gloomy thing," and that in spite of the sorrowful looks and dark forebodings of the teacher his faith is indeed a Gospel of good tidings ! We feel that Theodore Parker's religion was joy and light, and that his soul dwelt therein, like an eagle amid the fields of the upper air.

Regarding the Prayers now printed, one observation may seem desirable. It was Parker's habit continually to use in his addresses to God a phrase which has been found to startle many religious minds. He frequently called Him "Thou, who art our Father and our Mother both," the "Father and Mother of the world."

In the Preface to the preceding volume the Editor called attention to this characteristic of Theism, that it teaches us to see in God not only a Father full of care for His children's welfare, but a Mother full also of tenderness and pity. Too long, we believe, has the Catholic Church separated off this mother-side of Deity into another object of worship; and more fatal still has been the error of the Reformed Churches, which in rejecting the Madonna have rejected all that she imaged forth of that Divine tenderness, which the prophet of old had recognized when he declared that although a woman should forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb," yet would the Lord never forget or cease to pity His creatures. To such as would object to the use of such expressions as those of Parker we would ask in all seriousness: Is not a mother then the holiest thing on earth? her love the purest? her memory the dearest? We call God "our Father in Heaven," and bless the Christ who taught us to do so. But is there any irreverence in adding the name of one parent to that of the other? and can we think that a mother's sacred title is unworthy to be joined with that of father? Surely ideas like these are the legacy of miserable ages of asceticism, wherein womanhood and motherhood were deemed unholy things, and God's great order of the world was rejected as unclean. "In the beginning," saith the author of the earliest fragments of the Bible, "God made man in his own image — male and female created He them." In the female nature we must look for one portion of that Divine Image, even as for another in the male. Hitherto we have grievously failed in this respect, and have lost in consequence a view of God's character, the most suited of all to touch our hearts. For what is it in truth in human life which affects us most closely? Is it great and bounteous gifts, or even unwavering care for our welfare? For these things we return gratitude. But that which melts us and reaches our inmost hearts are the tokens of personal tenderness, often trifling in value and of momentary duration, but proving that love which is the peculiar attribute of a mother. Thus if we desire to dwell on those characteristics of our Maker which shall most deeply touch men's natures, we must never forget that He is just as truly our Mother as our Father in Heaven. And if we need to reclaim the erring, to soften the hardened and brutalized, then, again judging by all human experience, we must fall back on this side of the great truth; and just as the most savage criminals have constantly been found accessible through the memory of a mother's kindness, when every other influence fell powerless, so shall we reclaim the sinful by recalling the faith that God is the ever-loving, long-suffering Mother, who watches over us with unwearied patience, who punishes us only for our good, who hates our sins even as our mothers hated them in the fulness of their love for our better selves, and who will fold us all, blest and forgiven at last, upon the bosom of Eternal Love.

February, 1863.