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THE foregoing sermon was preached on Sunday morning, October 23, in response to the request embodied in the following Resolutions:
THE TRUSTEES OF THE SECOND UNITARIAN SOCIETY OF BROOKLYN, having heard of the death of the Rev. Samuel Longfellow in Portland, Me., on the 3d inst., would hereby call to mind that from 1853 to 1860 he was the beloved minister of this society, and that his ministry was characterized by an openness of mind, a freedom from conventionality, a moral earnestness and spiritual fervor, which have been to us ever since "the mark of our high calling." They are happy to believe that in the course of thirty years' residence in other places he never lost his interest in this society, and that those who knew him here were always grateful for the influence of his word and life. Especially would we be glad that his beautiful hymns have brought him frequently to mind, and breathed on us his spirit of good will to men and trust in God.
Resolved, That our minister be requested to make Mr. Longfellow's life and character the subject of a memorial discourse at his earliest convenience; also that a copy of these Resolutions be transmitted to Mr. Longfellow's relatives and inscribed upon the records of the society.
BROOKLYN, Oct. 4, 1892.
The services connected with the sermon were associated with Mr. Longfellow as much as possible. The introductory sentences were of his selection, the Scripture reading was from the Apocrypha, which Mr. Longfellow was one of the first to love and read among us, when to read it occasioned the remark, "The Bible is not good enough for him," and the three hymns were hymns that he had written, and were as follows:
O Life that maketh all things new,
The blooming earth, the thoughts of men!
Our pilgrim feet, wet with thy dew,
In gladness hither turn again.
THE OLD, OLD STORY.
It is an older story than the theologians tell concerning Jesus that I wish to tell you this Christmas morning. And yet, perhaps, this morning is not the best I could choose for such a story; for the very name "Christmas" suggests the beginning of that legend which went on growing, century after century, until the theological conception of Jesus was as unlike the actual man who trod the earth of Galilee, and went teaching through her populous towns, as Pollok's "Course of Time" is unlike the simple songs that came straight from the heart of Robert Burns. If you know of any two things more unlike, then you can make a contrast of your own, and it will be a better one than mine; for, the more unlike the things that you contrast, the better will they image forth the difference between the actual Jesus and the mythological Christ, -the theological being, superhuman, superangelic, God, who in about three centuries was substituted for Jesus in the creed of Christendom and the affections of the Christian Church.
And yet, strange as it may appear, while we know very little, almost nothing, about the birth of Jesus, we know a great deal about the birth and infancy, the ideal creation, of the theological being who usurped his place. I have often told you of the medieval play in which Adam is represented going across the stage, going to be created. Now, Christ has frequently been called the second Adam, and it is very certain that the New Testament Christ seconds the mediaval Adam in that we find him going across the New Testament stage, going to be created; and not only so, but we find him in successive stages of creation, from the pure and then adorned
humanity of the Synoptic Gospels up through the free and daring speculations of the apostle Paul, wherein he is a heavenly archetypal man, and next a cosmic principle, until at length in the Fourth Gospel he is so near the verge of godhead that, one step more being taken, he was well across the line. It is the first step which costs, the proverb says; but this step, which was not the first nor the second, cost a great deal,- well-nigh two centuries of time, for the Fourth Gospel was written soon after 125 A.D., and the deification of the theologic Christ was consummated at the Council of Nicæa in 325; and a quite infinite amount of difference and debate and disputation, with much heart-burning, too, and many evil passions stirred up on the way. Every inch of that step has been preserved to us in the records of the early Christian Church, even in those tattered leaves and fragments of them which have come down to us. And we have no anger nor contempt for those who did the most to bring the change to pass. Here and there, no doubt, there were self-seeking and double-dealing and such things, from which no church has ever been entirely free. But, for the most part, the theologians of the second and third centuries who transformed the human Jesus into a mythological Christ, and that mytho logical Christ into the infinite and eternal God, were earnest, honest men. They did the best they could under the circumstances of the time. Each hair's-breadth of the way was a necessity of the limitations of their thought, and the demand for definite opinion as a basis of church organization. And who shall say that there was not good as well as ill in the great transformation? Who shall say that the simplicity of Jesus would have survived the strange vicissi tudes of the first Christian centuries, that any word of Gospel or Epistle would have come down to us, any image of Jesus in the human semblance of his life, if all these had not been wrapped about in various integuments congenial to the taste and fancy of the Oriental and the Roman mind?
For, in truth, "the vast and splendid disfigurement of ecclesiastical tradition," as Mr. Curtis once called it in a
phrase which was at once a compliment and condemnation, was less a distortion of the actual than a concealing of it from our view; and, what the early theologians did, the later theologians, the later scholars and critics, have undone to a very great extent. They have rolled away the stone which the old theologians had set against the tomb, the prison, of the actual Jesus. They have said to him, "Come forth!" and he has rent the cerements of dogmatic representation, scattered the spices of an insane and sickly adulation, and come forth to walk once more among us as a brother man, with human limitations and defects, but none the less with a great human heart which dared to trust that God's could be no less, and with a passionate enthusiasm for all men and women bowed and crushed under the weight of any sorrow, misery, or sin. For all those to whom the
course of modern studies of the New Testament is something strange and far away, immersed as they are in many cares and troubles and anxieties, with no time for study, with no time for thought, it is nothing wonderful that there is no appreciation of the force and meaning of these studies. But that any one who has time for study and for thought, and who has followed the course of these studies, even in the most casual way, can help acknowledging that the theological Christ, the second person in the Trinity, is an ideal creation of Greek metaphysics and corresponds to nothing actual in heaven or on earth, is almost as miraculous as any story that the New Testament legend has preserved. "Washington was born with his clothes on!" said Nathaniel Hawthorne, protesting against Greenough's statue of Washington, in which an army-blanket is the only drawback from the unqualified simplicity of the natural man. But supposing any one who had known the Father of his Country from his infancy, and had watched his growth from stage to stage, and knew the very tailors who had made his clothes, should insist upon believing that he was born just as he was in his maturity, apparelled as he was at Germantown or Monmouth or on April 30, 1789, when he took the oath as President of