The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - by R.W. Emerson Institute, Jim Manley, Director -

Delivered before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday
Evening, July 15, 1838

In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life.
The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the
tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the
pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart
with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their
almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a
toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares his eyes
again for the crimson dawn. The mystery of nature was never displayed more
happily. The corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures, and the
never-broken silence with which the old bounty goes forward, has not yielded yet
one word of explanation. One is constrained to respect the perfection of this
world, in which our senses converse. How wide; how rich; what invitation from
every property it gives to every faculty of man! In its fruitful soils; in its
navigable sea; in its mountains of metal and stone; in its forests of all woods;
in its animals; in its chemical ingredients; in the powers and path of light,
heat, attraction, and life, it is well worth the pith and heart of great men to
subdue and enjoy it. The planters, the mechanics, the inventors, the
astronomers, the builders of cities, and the captains, history delights to

But when the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse the universe,
and make things what they are, then shrinks the great world at once into a mere
illustration and fable of this mind. What am I? and What is? asks the human
spirit with a curiosity new-kindled, but never to be quenched. Behold these
outrunning laws, which our imperfect apprehension can see tend this way and
that, but not come full circle. Behold these infinite relations, so like, so
unlike; many, yet one. I would study, I would know, I would admire forever.
These works of thought have been the entertainments of the human spirit in all

A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man when his heart
and mind open to the sentiment of virtue. Then he is instructed in what is above
him. He learns that his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the
perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness. That which he
venerates is still his own, though he has not realized it yet. He ought. He
knows the sense of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render
account of it. When in innocency, or when by intellectual perception, he attains
to say, — `I love the Right; Truth is beautiful within and without,
forevermore. Virtue, I am thine: save me: use me: thee will I serve, day and
night, in great, in small, that I may be not virtuous, but virtue;’ — then is
the end of the creation answered, and God is well pleased.

The sentiment of virtue is a reverence and delight in the presence of certain
divine laws. It perceives that this homely game of life we play, covers, under
what seem foolish details, principles that astonish. The child amidst his
baubles, is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force; and
in the game of human life, love, fear, justice, appetite, man, and God,
interact. These laws refuse to be adequately stated. They will not be written
out on paper, or spoken by the tongue. They elude our persevering thought; yet
we read them hourly in each other’s faces, in each other’s actions, in our own
remorse. The moral traits which are all globed into every virtuous act and
thought, — in speech, we must sever, and describe or suggest by painful
enumeration of many particulars. Yet, as this sentiment is the essence of all
religion, let me guide your eye to the precise objects of the sentiment, by an
enumeration of some of those classes of facts in which this element is

The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the
laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of
space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus; in the soul of man there is a
justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is
instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted.
He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just,
then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty
of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he
deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the
view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward,
is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.

See how this rapid intrinsic energy worketh everywhere, righting wrongs,
correcting appearances, and bringing up facts to a harmony with thoughts. Its
operation in life, though slow to the senses, is, at last, as sure as in the
soul. By it, a man is made the Providence to himself, dispensing good to his
goodness, and evil to his sin. Character is always known. Thefts never enrich;
alms never impoverish; murder will speak out of stone walls. The least admixture
of a lie, — for example, the taint of vanity, the least attempt to make a good
impression, a favorable appearance, — will instantly vitiate the effect. But
speak the truth, and all nature and all spirits help you with unexpected
furtherance. Speak the truth, and all things alive or brute are vouchers, and
the very roots of the grass underground there, do seem to stir and move to bear
you witness. See again the perfection of the Law as it applies itself to the
affections, and becomes the law of society. As we are, so we associate. The
good, by affinity, seek the good; the vile, by affinity, the vile. Thus of their
own volition, souls proceed into heaven, into hell.

These facts have always suggested to man the sublime creed, that the world is
not the product of manifold power, but of one will, of one mind; and that one
mind is everywhere active, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool;
and whatever opposes that will, is everywhere balked and baffled, because things
are made so, and not otherwise. Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not
absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is so much
death or nonentity. Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as a
man hath, so much life hath he. For all things proceed out of this same spirit,
which is differently named love, justice, temperance, in its different
applications, just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores
which it washes. All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things
conspire with it. Whilst a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole
strength of nature. In so far as he roves from these ends, he bereaves himself
of power, of auxiliaries; his being shrinks out of all remote channels, he
becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until absolute badness is absolute

The perception of this law of laws awakens in the mind a sentiment which we
call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness. Wonderful
is its power to charm and to command. It is a mountain air. It is the embalmer
of the world. It is myrrh and storax, and chlorine and rosemary. It makes the
sky and the hills sublime, and the silent song of the stars is it. By it, is the
universe made safe and habitable, not by science or power. Thought may work cold
and intransitive in things, and find no end or unity; but the dawn of the
sentiment of virtue on the heart, gives and is the assurance that Law is
sovereign over all natures; and the worlds, time, space, eternity, do seem to
break out into joy.

This sentiment is divine and deifying. It is the beatitude of man. It makes
him illimitable. Through it, the soul first knows itself. It corrects the
capital mistake of the infant man, who seeks to be great by following the great,
and hopes to derive advantages from another, — by showing the fountain of all
good to be in himself, and that he, equally with every man, is an inlet into the
deeps of Reason. When he says, "I ought;" when love warms him; when he chooses,
warned from on high, the good and great deed; then, deep melodies wander through
his soul from Supreme Wisdom. Then he can worship, and be enlarged by his
worship; for he can never go behind this sentiment. In the sublimest flights of
the soul, rectitude is never surmounted, love is never outgrown.

This sentiment lies at the foundation of society, and successively creates
all forms of worship. The principle of veneration never dies out. Man fallen
into superstition, into sensuality, is never quite without the visions of the
moral sentiment. In like manner, all the expressions of this sentiment are
sacred and permanent in proportion to their purity. The expressions of this
sentiment affect us more than all other compositions. The sentences of the
oldest time, which ejaculate this piety, are still fresh and fragrant. This
thought dwelled always deepest in the minds of men in the devout and
contemplative East; not alone in Palestine, where it reached its purest
expression, but in Egypt, in Persia, in India, in China. Europe has always owed
to oriental genius, its divine impulses. What these holy bards said, all sane
men found agreeable and true. And the unique impression of Jesus upon mankind,
whose name is not so much written as ploughed into the history of this world, is
proof of the subtle virtue of this infusion.

Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before
every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern
condition; this, namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second
hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive
from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject;
and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. On
the contrary, the absence of this primary faith is the presence of degradation.
As is the flood so is the ebb. Let this faith depart, and the very words it
spake, and the things it made, become false and hurtful. Then falls the church,
the state, art, letters, life. The doctrine of the divine nature being
forgotten, a sickness infects and dwarfs the constitution. Once man was all; now
he is an appendage, a nuisance. And because the indwelling Supreme Spirit cannot
wholly be got rid of, the doctrine of it suffers this perversion, that the
divine nature is attributed to one or two persons, and denied to all the rest,
and denied with fury. The doctrine of inspiration is lost; the base doctrine of
the majority of voices, usurps the place of the doctrine of the soul. Miracles,
prophecy, poetry; the ideal life, the holy life, exist as ancient history
merely; they are not in the belief, nor in the aspiration of society; but, when
suggested, seem ridiculous. Life is comic or pitiful, as soon as the high ends
of being fade out of sight, and man becomes near-sighted, and can only attend to
what addresses the senses.

These general views, which, whilst they are general, none will contest, find
abundant illustration in the history of religion, and especially in the history
of the Christian church. In that, all of us have had our birth and nurture. The
truth contained in that, you, my young friends, are now setting forth to teach.
As the Cultus, or established worship of the civilized world, it has great
historical interest for us. Of its blessed words, which have been the
consolation of humanity, you need not that I should speak. I shall endeavor to
discharge my duty to you, on this occasion, by pointing out two errors in its
administration, which daily appear more gross from the point of view we have
just now taken.

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the
mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he
lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the
greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God
incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of
his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, `I am divine. Through
me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when
thou also thinkest as I now think.’ But what a distortion did his doctrine and
memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages! There is no
doctrine of the Reason which will bear to be taught by the Understanding. The
understanding caught this high chant from the poet’s lips, and said, in the next
age, `This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you, if you say he
was a man.’ The idioms of his language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have
usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles,
but on his tropes. Christianity became a Mythus, as the poetic teaching of
Greece and of Egypt, before. He spoke of miracles; for he felt that man’s life
was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle
shines, as the character ascends. But the word Miracle, as pronounced by
Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with
the blowing clover and the falling rain.

He felt respect for Moses and the prophets; but no unfit tenderness at
postponing their initial revelations, to the hour and the man that now is; to
the eternal revelation in the heart. Thus was he a true man. Having seen that
the law in us is commanding, he would not suffer it to be commanded. Boldly,
with hand, and heart, and life, he declared it was God. Thus is he, as I think,
the only soul in history who has appreciated the worth of a man.

1. In this point of view we become very sensible of the first defect of
historical Christianity. Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that
corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it
has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration
of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious
exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites
every man to expand to the full circle of the universe, and will have no
preferences but those of spontaneous love. But by this eastern monarchy of a
Christianity, which indolence and fear have built, the friend of man is made the
injurer of man. The manner in which his name is surrounded with expressions,
which were once sallies of admiration and love, but are now petrified into
official titles, kills all generous sympathy and liking. All who hear me, feel,
that the language that describes Christ to Europe and America, is not the style
of friendship and enthusiasm to a good and noble heart, but is appropriated and
formal, — paints a demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe
Osiris or Apollo. Accept the injurious impositions of our early catachetical
instruction, and even honesty and self-denial were but splendid sins, if they
did not wear the Christian name. One would rather be

`A pagan, suckled in a creed outworn,’

than to be defrauded of his manly right in coming into nature, and finding
not names and places, not land and professions, but even virtue and truth
foreclosed and monopolized. You shall not be a man even. You shall not own the
world; you shall not dare, and live after the infinite Law that is in you, and
in company with the infinite Beauty which heaven and earth reflect to you in all
lovely forms; but you must subordinate your nature to Christ’s nature; you must
accept our interpretations; and take his portrait as the vulgar draw it.

That is always best which gives me to myself. The sublime is excited in me by
the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself. That which shows God in me, fortifies
me. That which shows God out of me, makes me a wart and a wen. There is no
longer a necessary reason for my being. Already the long shadows of untimely
oblivion creep over me, and I shall decease forever.

The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intellect of my
strength. They admonish me, that the gleams which flash across my mind, are not
mine, but God’s; that they had the like, and were not disobedient to the
heavenly vision. So I love them. Noble provocations go out from them, inviting
me to resist evil; to subdue the world; and to Be. And thus by his holy
thoughts, Jesus serves us, and thus only. To aim to convert a man by miracles,
is a profanation of the soul. A true conversion, a true Christ, is now, as
always, to be made, by the reception of beautiful sentiments. It is true that a
great and rich soul, like his, falling among the simple, does so preponderate,
that, as his did, it names the world. The world seems to them to exist for him,
and they have not yet drunk so deeply of his sense, as to see that only by
coming again to themselves, or to God in themselves, can they grow forevermore.
It is a low benefit to give me something; it is a high benefit to enable me to
do somewhat of myself. The time is coming when all men will see, that the gift
of God to the soul is not a vaunting, overpowering, excluding sanctity, but a
sweet, natural goodness, a goodness like thine and mine, and that so invites
thine and mine to be and to grow.

The injustice of the vulgar tone of preaching is not less flagrant to Jesus,
than to the souls which it profanes. The preachers do not see that they make his
gospel not glad, and shear him of the locks of beauty and the attributes of
heaven. When I see a majestic Epaminondas, or Washington; when I see among my
contemporaries, a true orator, an upright judge, a dear friend; when I vibrate
to the melody and fancy of a poem; I see beauty that is to be desired. And so
lovely, and with yet more entire consent of my human being, sounds in my ear the
severe music of the bards that have sung of the true God in all ages. Now do not
degrade the life and dialogues of Christ out of the circle of this charm, by
insulation and peculiarity. Let them lie as they befel, alive and warm, part of
human life, and of the landscape, and of the cheerful day.

2. The second defect of the traditionary and limited way of using the mind of
Christ is a consequence of the first; this, namely; that the Moral Nature, that
Law of laws, whose revelations introduce greatness, — yea, God himself, into
the open soul, is not explored as the fountain of the established teaching in
society. Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and
done, as if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher; and the
goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice.

It is very certain that it is the effect of conversation with the beauty of
the soul, to beget a desire and need to impart to others the same knowledge and
love. If utterance is denied, the thought lies like a burden on the man. Always
the seer is a sayer. Somehow his dream is told: somehow he publishes it with
solemn joy: sometimes with pencil on canvas; sometimes with chisel on stone;
sometimes in towers and aisles of granite, his soul’s worship is builded;
sometimes in anthems of indefinite music; but clearest and most permanent, in

The man enamored of this excellency, becomes its priest or poet. The office
is coeval with the world. But observe the condition, the spiritual limitation of
the office. The spirit only can teach. Not any profane man, not any sensual, not
any liar, not any slave can teach, but only he can give, who has; he only can
create, who is. The man on whom the soul descends, through whom the soul speaks,
alone can teach. Courage, piety, love, wisdom, can teach; and every man can open
his door to these angels, and they shall bring him the gift of tongues. But the
man who aims to speak as books enable, as synods use, as the fashion guides, and
as interest commands, babbles. Let him hush.

To this holy office, you propose to devote yourselves. I wish you may feel
your call in throbs of desire and hope. The office is the first in the world. It
is of that reality, that it cannot suffer the deduction of any falsehood. And it
is my duty to say to you, that the need was never greater of new revelation than
now. From the views I have already expressed, you will infer the sad conviction,
which I share, I believe, with numbers, of the universal decay and now almost
death of faith in society. The soul is not preached. The Church seems to totter
to its fall, almost all life extinct. On this occasion, any complaisance would
be criminal, which told you, whose hope and commission it is to preach the faith
of Christ, that the faith of Christ is preached.

It is time that this ill-suppressed murmur of all thoughtful men against the
famine of our churches; this moaning of the heart because it is bereaved of the
consolation, the hope, the grandeur, that come alone out of the culture of the
moral nature; should be heard through the sleep of indolence, and over the din
of routine. This great and perpetual office of the preacher is not discharged.
Preaching is the expression of the moral sentiment in application to the duties
of life. In how many churches, by how many prophets, tell me, is man made
sensible that he is an infinite Soul; that the earth and heavens are passing
into his mind; that he is drinking forever the soul of God? Where now sounds the
persuasion, that by its very melody imparadises my heart, and so affirms its own
origin in heaven? Where shall I hear words such as in elder ages drew men to
leave all and follow, — father and mother, house and land, wife and child?
Where shall I hear these august laws of moral being so pronounced, as to fill my
ear, and I feel ennobled by the offer of my uttermost action and passion? The
test of the true faith, certainly, should be its power to charm and command the
soul, as the laws of nature control the activity of the hands, — so commanding
that we find pleasure and honor in obeying. The faith should blend with the
light of rising and of setting suns, with the flying cloud, the singing bird,
and the breath of flowers. But now the priest’s Sabbath has lost the splendor of
nature; it is unlovely; we are glad when it is done; we can make, we do make,
even sitting in our pews, a far better, holier, sweeter, for ourselves.

Whenever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the worshipper
defrauded and disconsolate. We shrink as soon as the prayers begin, which do not
uplift, but smite and offend us. We are fain to wrap our cloaks about us, and
secure, as best we can, a solitude that hears not. I once heard a preacher who
sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more. Men go, thought I, where
they are wont to go, else had no soul entered the temple in the afternoon. A
snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely
spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of
the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. He had lived in
vain. He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or
in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and
acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his profession,
namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. Not one fact in all his
experience, had he yet imported into his doctrine. This man had ploughed, and
planted, and talked, and bought, and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and
drunken; his head aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet was there
not a surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all. Not
a line did he draw out of real history. The true preacher can be known by this,
that he deals out to the people his life, — life passed through the fire of
thought. But of the bad preacher, it could not be told from his sermon, what age
of the world he fell in; whether he had a father or a child; whether he was a
freeholder or a pauper; whether he was a citizen or a countryman; or any other
fact of his biography. It seemed strange that the people should come to church.
It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they should prefer
this thoughtless clamor. It shows that there is a commanding attraction in the
moral sentiment, that can lend a faint tint of light to dulness and ignorance,
coming in its name and place. The good hearer is sure he has been touched
sometimes; is sure there is somewhat to be reached, and some word that can reach
it. When he listens to these vain words, he comforts himself by their relation
to his remembrance of better hours, and so they clatter and echo unchallenged.

I am not ignorant that when we preach unworthily, it is not always quite in
vain. There is a good ear, in some men, that draws supplies to virtue out of
very indifferent nutriment. There is poetic truth concealed in all the
common-places of prayer and of sermons, and though foolishly spoken, they may be
wisely heard; for, each is some select expression that broke out in a moment of
piety from some stricken or jubilant soul, and its excellency made it
remembered. The prayers and even the dogmas of our church, are like the zodiac
of Denderah, and the astronomical monuments of the Hindoos, wholly insulated
from anything now extant in the life and business of the people. They mark the
height to which the waters once rose. But this docility is a check upon the
mischief from the good and devout. In a large portion of the community, the
religious service gives rise to quite other thoughts and emotions. We need not
chide the negligent servant. We are struck with pity, rather, at the swift
retribution of his sloth. Alas for the unhappy man that is called to stand in
the pulpit, and not give bread of life. Everything that befalls, accuses him.
Would he ask contributions for the missions, foreign or domestic? Instantly his
face is suffused with shame, to propose to his parish, that they should send
money a hundred or a thousand miles, to furnish such poor fare as they have at
home, and would do well to go the hundred or the thousand miles to escape. Would
he urge people to a godly way of living; — and can he ask a fellow-creature to
come to Sabbath meetings, when he and they all know what is the poor uttermost
they can hope for therein? Will he invite them privately to the Lord’s Supper?
He dares not. If no heart warm this rite, the hollow, dry, creaking formality is
too plain, than that he can face a man of wit and energy, and put the invitation
without terror. In the street, what has he to say to the bold village
blasphemer? The village blasphemer sees fear in the face, form, and gait of the

Let me not taint the sincerity of this plea by any oversight of the claims of
good men. I know and honor the purity and strict conscience of numbers of the
clergy. What life the public worship retains, it owes to the scattered company
of pious men, who minister here and there in the churches, and who, sometimes
accepting with too great tenderness the tenet of the elders, have not accepted
from others, but from their own heart, the genuine impulses of virtue, and so
still command our love and awe, to the sanctity of character. Moreover, the
exceptions are not so much to be found in a few eminent preachers, as in the
better hours, the truer inspirations of all, — nay, in the sincere moments of
every man. But with whatever exception, it is still true, that tradition
characterizes the preaching of this country; that it comes out of the memory,
and not out of the soul; that it aims at what is usual, and not at what is
necessary and eternal; that thus, historical Christianity destroys the power of
preaching, by withdrawing it from the exploration of the moral nature of man,
where the sublime is, where are the resources of astonishment and power. What a
cruel injustice it is to that Law, the joy of the whole earth, which alone can
make thought dear and rich; that Law whose fatal sureness the astronomical
orbits poorly emulate, that it is travestied and depreciated, that it is
behooted and behowled, and not a trait, not a word of it articulated. The pulpit
in losing sight of this Law, loses its reason, and gropes after it knows not
what. And for want of this culture, the soul of the community is sick and
faithless. It wants nothing so much as a stern, high, stoical, Christian
discipline, to make it know itself and the divinity that speaks through it. Now
man is ashamed of himself; he skulks and sneaks through the world, to be
tolerated, to be pitied, and scarcely in a thousand years does any man dare to
be wise and good, and so draw after him the tears and blessings of his kind.

Certainly there have been periods when, from the inactivity of the intellect
on certain truths, a greater faith was possible in names and persons. The
Puritans in England and America, found in the Christ of the Catholic Church, and
in the dogmas inherited from Rome, scope for their austere piety, and their
longings for civil freedom. But their creed is passing away, and none arises in
its room. I think no man can go with his thoughts about him, into one of our
churches, without feeling, that what hold the public worship had on men is gone,
or going. It has lost its grasp on the affection of the good, and the fear of
the bad. In the country, neighborhoods, half parishes are signing off, — to use
the local term. It is already beginning to indicate character and religion to
withdraw from the religious meetings. I have heard a devout person, who prized
the Sabbath, say in bitterness of heart, "On Sundays, it seems wicked to go to
church." And the motive, that holds the best there, is now only a hope and a
waiting. What was once a mere circumstance, that the best and the worst men in
the parish, the poor and the rich, the learned and the ignorant, young and old,
should meet one day as fellows in one house, in sign of an equal right in the
soul, — has come to be a paramount motive for going thither.

My friends, in these two errors, I think, I find the causes of a decaying
church and a wasting unbelief. And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation,
than the loss of worship? Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the temple,
to haunt the senate, or the market. Literature becomes frivolous. Science is
cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by the hope of other worlds, and age is
without honor. Society lives to trifles, and when men die, we do not mention

And now, my brothers, you will ask, What in these desponding days can be done
by us? The remedy is already declared in the ground of our complaint of the
Church. We have contrasted the Church with the Soul. In the soul, then, let the
redemption be sought. Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution. The old is
for slaves. When a man comes, all books are legible, all things transparent, all
religions are forms. He is religious. Man is the wonderworker. He is seen amid
miracles. All men bless and curse. He saith yea and nay, only. The
stationariness of religion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past,
that the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by
representing him as a man; indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of
our theology. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not
was; that He speaketh, not spake. The true Christianity, — a faith like
Christ’s in the infinitude of man, — is lost. None believeth in the soul of
man, but only in some man or person old and departed. Ah me! no man goeth alone.
All men go in flocks to this saint or that poet, avoiding the God who seeth in
secret. They cannot see in secret; they love to be blind in public. They think
society wiser than their soul, and know not that one soul, and their soul, is
wiser than the whole world. See how nations and races flit by on the sea of
time, and leave no ripple to tell where they floated or sunk, and one good soul
shall make the name of Moses, or of Zeno, or of Zoroaster, reverend forever.
None assayeth the stern ambition to be the Self of the nation, and of nature,
but each would be an easy secondary to some Christian scheme, or sectarian
connection, or some eminent man. Once leave your own knowledge of God, your own
sentiment, and take secondary knowledge, as St. Paul’s, or George Fox’s, or
Swedenborg’s, and you get wide from God with every year this secondary form
lasts, and if, as now, for centuries, — the chasm yawns to that breadth, that
men can scarcely be convinced there is in them anything divine.

Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models,
even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God
without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your
emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good
men, but say, `I also am a man.’ Imitation cannot go above its model. The
imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it
was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something
else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of
another man’s.

Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity,
and acquaint men at first hand with Deity. Look to it first and only, that
fashion, custom, authority, pleasure, and money, are nothing to you, — are not
bandages over your eyes, that you cannot see, — but live with the privilege of
the immeasurable mind. Not too anxious to visit periodically all families and
each family in your parish connection, — when you meet one of these men or
women, be to them a divine man; be to them thought and virtue; let their timid
aspirations find in you a friend; let their trampled instincts be genially
tempted out in your atmosphere; let their doubts know that you have doubted, and
their wonder feel that you have wondered. By trusting your own heart, you shall
gain more confidence in other men. For all our penny-wisdom, for all our
soul-destroying slavery to habit, it is not to be doubted, that all men have
sublime thoughts; that all men value the few real hours of life; they love to be
heard; they love to be caught up into the vision of principles. We mark with
light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of
routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we
thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were.
Discharge to men the priestly office, and, present or absent, you shall be
followed with their love as by an angel.

And, to this end, let us not aim at common degrees of merit. Can we not
leave, to such as love it, the virtue that glitters for the commendation of
society, and ourselves pierce the deep solitudes of absolute ability and worth?
We easily come up to the standard of goodness in society. Society’s praise can
be cheaply secured, and almost all men are content with those easy merits; but
the instant effect of conversing with God, will be, to put them away. There are
persons who are not actors, not speakers, but influences; persons too great for
fame, for display; who disdain eloquence; to whom all we call art and artist,
seems too nearly allied to show and by-ends, to the exaggeration of the finite
and selfish, and loss of the universal. The orators, the poets, the commanders
encroach on us only as fair women do, by our allowance and homage. Slight them
by preoccupation of mind, slight them, as you can well afford to do, by high and
universal aims, and they instantly feel that you have right, and that it is in
lower places that they must shine. They also feel your right; for they with you
are open to the influx of the all-knowing Spirit, which annihilates before its
broad noon the little shades and gradations of intelligence in the compositions
we call wiser and wisest.

In such high communion, let us study the grand strokes of rectitude: a bold
benevolence, an independence of friends, so that not the unjust wishes of those
who love us, shall impair our freedom, but we shall resist for truth’s sake the
freest flow of kindness, and appeal to sympathies far in advance; and, — what
is the highest form in which we know this beautiful element, — a certain
solidity of merit, that has nothing to do with opinion, and which is so
essentially and manifestly virtue, that it is taken for granted, that the right,
the brave, the generous step will be taken by it, and nobody thinks of
commending it. You would compliment a coxcomb doing a good act, but you would
not praise an angel. The silence that accepts merit as the most natural thing in
the world, is the highest applause. Such souls, when they appear, are the
Imperial Guard of Virtue, the perpetual reserve, the dictators of fortune. One
needs not praise their courage, — they are the heart and soul of nature. O my
friends, there are resources in us on which we have not drawn. There are men who
rise refreshed on hearing a threat; men to whom a crisis which intimidates and
paralyzes the majority, — demanding not the faculties of prudence and thrift,
but comprehension, immovableness, the readiness of sacrifice, — comes graceful
and beloved as a bride. Napoleon said of Massena, that he was not himself until
the battle began to go against him; then, when the dead began to fall in ranks
around him, awoke his powers of combination, and he put on terror and victory as
a robe. So it is in rugged crises, in unweariable endurance, and in aims which
put sympathy out of question, that the angel is shown. But these are heights
that we can scarce remember and look up to, without contrition and shame. Let us
thank God that such things exist.

And now let us do what we can to rekindle the smouldering, nigh quenched fire
on the altar. The evils of the church that now is are manifest. The question
returns, What shall we do? I confess, all attempts to project and establish a
Cultus with new rites and forms, seem to me vain. Faith makes us, and not we it,
and faith makes its own forms. All attempts to contrive a system are as cold as
the new worship introduced by the French to the goddess of Reason, — to-day,
pasteboard and fillagree, and ending to-morrow in madness and murder. Rather let
the breath of new life be breathed by you through the forms already existing.
For, if once you are alive, you shall find they shall become plastic and new.
The remedy to their deformity is, first, soul, and second, soul, and evermore,
soul. A whole popedom of forms, one pulsation of virtue can uplift and vivify.
Two inestimable advantages Christianity has given us; first; the Sabbath, the
jubilee of the whole world; whose light dawns welcome alike into the closet of
the philosopher, into the garret of toil, and into prison cells, and everywhere
suggests, even to the vile, the dignity of spiritual being. Let it stand
forevermore, a temple, which new love, new faith, new sight shall restore to
more than its first splendor to mankind. And secondly, the institution of
preaching, — the speech of man to men, — essentially the most flexible of all
organs, of all forms. What hinders that now, everywhere, in pulpits, in
lecture-rooms, in houses, in fields, wherever the invitation of men or your own
occasions lead you, you speak the very truth, as your life and conscience teach
it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts of men with new hope and new

I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty, which ravished the souls of
those eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke
oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also. The Hebrew and Greek
Scriptures contain immortal sentences, that have been bread of life to millions.
But they have no epical integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order
to the intellect. I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those
shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding
complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the
identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the
Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson