It would seem that the church should be the most effective agency for promoting individual worth and consequent happiness. Is it?—and if not, why not? We are apt to say we live in a new age, forgetting how little change of form matters. Human nature, with its instincts and desires, love of self, and the general enjoyment of, and through, possessions, is so little changed that differences in condition and circumstance have only a modifying influence. It is man, the man within, that counts—not his clothing.
But it is true that human institutions do undergo great changes, and nothing intimate and important has suffered greater changes than the church. Religion itself, vastly more important than the church, has changed and is changing. Martineau’s illuminating classification helps us to realize this. The first expression, the pagan, was based on fear and the idea of winning favor by purchase, giving something to God—it might be burnt-offerings—for his good-will. Then came the Jewish, the ethical, the thought of doing, rather than giving. Righteousness earns God’s favor. The higher conception blossomed into Christianity with its trust in the love of God and of serving him and fellow-man, self-sacrifice being the highest expression of harmony with him. Following this general advance from giving and doing to being, we have the altar, the temple, and the church.
Unitarians owe first allegiance to the Kingdom of God on earth. It is of little consequence through which door it is entered. If any other is nearer or broader or more attractive, use it. We offer ours for those who prefer it or who find others not to be entered without a password they cannot pronounce.
A Unitarian who merely says he is one thereby gives no satisfactory evidence that he is. There are individuals who seem to think they are Unitarians because they are nothing else. They regard Unitarianism as the next to nothing in its requirement of belief, losing all sight of the fact that even one real belief exceeds, and may be more difficult than, many half-beliefs and hundreds of make-beliefs, and that a Unitarian church made up of those who have discarded all they thought they believed and became Unitarian for its bald negations is to be pitied and must be patiently nurtured.
As regards our responsibility for the growth of Unitarianism, we surely cannot fail to recognize it, but it should be clearly qualified by our recognition of the object in view. To regard Unitarianism as an end to be pursued for its own sake does not seem compatible with its own true spirit. The church itself is an instrument, and we are in right relation when we give the Unitarian church our preference, as, to us, the best instrument, while we hold first allegiance to the idealism for which it stands and to the goodness it seeks to unfold in the heart of man.