Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He had become troubled with doubts respecting a portion of his duties, and it was not in his nature to conceal these doubts from his people.  On the 9th of September, 1832, he preached a sermon on the Lord’s Supper, in which he announced unreservedly his conscientious scruples against administering that ordinance, and the grounds upon which those scruples were founded.  This discourse, as his only printed sermon, and as one which heralded a movement in New England theology which has never stopped from that day to this, deserves some special notice.  The sermon is in no sense “Emersonian” except in its directness, its sweet temper, and outspoken honesty.  He argues from his comparison of texts in a perfectly sober, old-fashioned way, as his ancestor Peter Bulkeley might have done.  It happened to that worthy forefather of Emerson that upon his “pressing a piece of Charity disagreeable to the will of the Ruling Elder, there was occasioned an unhappy Discord in the Church of Concord; which yet was at last healed, by their calling in the help of a Council and the Ruling Elder’s Abdication.”  So says Cotton Mather.  Whether zeal had grown cooler or charity grown warmer in Emerson’s days we need not try to determine.  The sermon was only a more formal declaration of views respecting the Lord’s Supper, which he had previously made known in a conference with some of the most active members of his church.  As a committee of the parish reported resolutions radically differing from his opinion on the subject, he preached this sermon and at the same time resigned his office.  There was no “discord,” there was no need of a “council.”  Nothing could be more friendly, more truly Christian, than the manner in which Mr. Emerson expressed himself in this parting discourse.  All the kindness of his nature warms it throughout.  He details the differences of opinion which have existed in the church with regard to the ordinance.  He then argues from the language of the Evangelists that it was not intended to be a permanent institution.  He takes up the statement of Paul in the Epistle to the Corinthians, which he thinks, all things considered, ought not to alter our opinion derived from the Evangelists.  He does not think that we are to rely upon the opinions and practices of the primitive church.  If that church believed the institution to be permanent, their belief does not settle the question for us.  On every other subject, succeeding times have learned to form a judgment more in accordance with the spirit of Christianity than was the practice of the early ages.

“But, it is said, ’Admit that the rite was not designed to be perpetual.’  What harm doth it?”

He proceeds to give reasons which show it to be inexpedient to continue the observance of the rite.  It was treating that as authoritative which, as he believed that he had shown from Scripture, was not so.  It confused the idea of God by transferring the worship of Him to Christ.  Christ is the Mediator only as the instructor of man.  In the least petition to God “the soul stands alone with God, and Jesus is no more present to your mind than your brother or child.”  Again:—­

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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