William Ellery Channing, 1780 - 1842

William Ellery Channing was a Unitarian minister, the intellectual and spiritual leader of American Unitarianism in the nineteenth century, and an important and pervasive influence on New England Transcendentalists such as Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cyrus Bartol, James Freeman Clarke, Christopher Cranch, Margaret Fuller, Frederic Henry Hedge, and George Ripley.  It may be said that Channing was a Transcendentalist in feeling, if not in thought.  His writings, sermons, and discourses yield many splendid utterances about the dignity of human nature, the divinity of the soul, the moral kinship with Christ, the inspiration of the moral sentiment, and the power of moral intuition.  His emphasis on human dignity, human freedom, the resemblance of the nature of man to the nature of God, humankind's capacity for reason and moral judgment, the desirability of religious growth, and the importance of self-culture so motivated the next generation of Transcendentalists that in many cases they followed the lead of Channing further than he himself was willing to go.  In 1819 he gave a powerful and moving sermon, "Unitarian Christianity," that became a manifesto for American Unitarianism.  Other famous and influential utterances are his 1828 sermon "Likeness to God" and his 1838 lecture "Self-Culture."  Although, unfortunately, he followed the epistemology of John Locke rather than the religious intuitionism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he nonetheless was revered by the Transcendentalists for his conviction of the innate divinity of the human soul.
Channing has been written about as follows by Octavius Brooks Frothingham, the first historian of American Transcendentalism.
. . . The sentiment of Channing went beyond his philosophy.  The following extracts taken at random from a volume of discourses edited in 1873 by his nephew, under the title "The Perfect Life," show that Channing was a Transcendentalist in feeling, whatever he may have been in thought.
"The religious principle, is, without doubt, the noblest working of human nature.  This principle God implanted for Himself.  Through this the human mind corresponds to the Supreme Divinity."
"The idea of God is involved in the primitive and most universal idea of Reason; and is one of its central principles."
"We have, each of us, the spiritual eye to see, the mind to know, the heart to love, the will to obey God."
"A spiritual light, brighter than that of noon, pervades our daily life.  The cause of our not seeing is in ourselves."
"The great lesson is, that there is in human nature an element truly Divine, and worthy of all reverence; that the Infinite which is mirrored in the outward universe, is yet more brightly imaged in the inward spiritual world."
"They who assert the greatness of human nature, see as much of guilt as the man of worldly wisdom.  But amidst the passions and selfishness of men they see another element--a Divine element--a spiritual principle."
"This moral principle--the supreme law in man--is the Law of the Universe, the very Law to which the highest beings are subject, and in obeying which they find their elevation and their joy."
"The Soul itself,--in its powers and affections, in its unquenchable thirst and aspiration for unattained good, gives signs of a Nature made for an interminable progress, such as cannot be now conceived."