Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Faith Schooled by Sorrow

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Faith Schooled by Sorrow

By William Ellery Channing (1780–1842)

[From Memoir of W. E. Channing. By W. H. Channing. 1848.]

YOU tell me your faith was the faith of happiness. This is never the surest. Fortunately, mine grew up under a dark sky, and the light has been increasing to this day. My passion for happiness spent itself in my youth in reverie. I never thought of realizing the vision on earth, and yet it has, in an humble manner, been realized. My faith in God, schooled by trial, looked to him first and almost exclusively for virtue, for deliverance from the great evil of sin, which I early felt to be the only true evil. The consciousness of unworthiness repressed all hopes of immediate happiness, gave me a profound conviction of the justice of my suffering, turned all my reproaches from Providence on myself, and not only made me incapable of murmuring, but taught me gratitude for the discipline of life. How often, in disappointment, has my first utterance been thanks to the Purifier of the soul!

Thus my faith has never for a moment been shaken by suffering. The consciousness of unworthiness, of falling so far below my idea of duty, a feeling which hardly forsakes me, has helped much to reconcile me to outward evil. It has taken the sting from human reproach. In listening to the inward reprover I have cared little for human opinion, and have found too much truth in censure to be much displeased with any but myself. Accordingly, my religion has taken very much one form; I think of God as the Father, from whose power and love I may seek and hope for myself and others the unutterable and only good,—that of deliverance from all inward evil, of perfect, unspotted goodness, of spiritual life now and forever.

I have talked of myself, for, after all, our experience is the best lesson we can give to others. Your nature differs. You have had an impatient thirst for immediate happiness, which my early history, and perhaps my mental constitution, forbade me. Happiness has come to me almost as a surprise, without plan or anticipation. You have grasped at it as almost your lawful inheritance, and had almost a feeling of wrong at disappointment.