Human Perfectibility

Boston Unitarian is a blog by a semi-anonymous Director of Religious Education at a large UU church in Massachusetts. The bulk of his posts are drawn from 19th Century Unitarian Christians. PeaceBang calls it “a free on-line course in classical Unitarianism you can take in fun little doses.”

Today’s post is from a sermon by James Walker, a Unitarian minister who was also President of Harvard University from 1853 to 1860. I’ve excerpted the excerpt – the words below are Rev. Dr. Walker’s:

There is nothing to hinder us from maintaining, as the Scriptures seem to do, the doctrine of human perfectibility. Perfectibility, as here used, differs from perfection in this – that a man may be pronounced perfectible though he never attains to perfection in fact, provided only that there is nothing in his nature itself to exclude the possibility of his perfection, and nothing in his circumstances to exclude the possibility of his continually going on towards perfection…

While, therefore, we give up human perfection, we stand fast for human perfectibility …

The idea of perfection is held up before us, not to be the object of vain longings and sighings, but to cheer and sustain us in the many weary steps we must take in its pursuit … perfection after all is our ultimate object; not our next and immediate object. Our next and immediate object, both as men and as Christians, is always the faithful discharge of the common and obvious and present duties which press upon us in that particular sphere of activity, be it high or low, in which Divine Providence has placed us.

Thus, the question for us as people who are trying to live good, meaningful, helpful lives is not whether we’re as good as we have to be, but whether we’re actively working to be as good as we can be.

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