While researching this week’s sermon, I came across this paragraph in Hosea Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement (1805):
To say God’s revealed will is contrary to his eternal and unrevealed will, would in me be blasphemy of the first magnitude; yet I do not doubt the sincerity of those who frequently say it. But is it not in a direct sense charging God with hypocrisy? However shocking it may seem, I know of no other light in which to view it. [link]
Isn’t this vaguely reminiscent of Theodore Parker’s distinction between permanent religions, and transient religion? In Parker’s famous sermon, “The Transient and Permanent in Religion” (1841), he writes:
Looking at the Word of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow more wise. But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable. While true religion is always the same thing, in each century and every land, in each man that feels it, the Christianity of the Pulpit, which is the religion taught; the Christianity of the People, which is the religion that is accepted and lived out; has never been the same thing in any two centuries or lands, except only in name. The difference between what is called Christianity by the Unitarians in our times, and that of some ages past, is greater than the difference between Mahomet and the messiah.[link to full text]
Obviously, Parker and Ballou are making somewhat different arguments, for somewhat different purposes. Ballou distinguishes between God’s “eternal and unrevealed will” and (conventional) revealed religion. Ballou’s purpose is quite specific:– to support his argument that, in contradiction to then-current Christian tradition, eternal damnation does not exist. Parker wants to show how religion as we experience it in day-to-day life changes and evolves. Parker’s purpose is more general:– he makes a general distinction between historically situated religion, and eternal permanent religion. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see this parallel between two 19th C. religious liberals.