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Theodore Parker
by [?]

Parker’s business was not to start a new world; rather, it was to collide with old, reeling, wobbling worlds, break them into pieces, and send these pieces spinning through space.

For fourteen years Theodore Parker spoke at Music-Hall, Boston, every Sunday, to congregations that varied from a thousand to three thousand, the capacity of the auditorium. During these years he was the dominating intellectual factor of Boston, if not all New England. People went to Boston, for hundreds of miles, just to hear Parker, as they went to Brooklyn to hear Beecher. And as for many people, Plymouth Church and Beecher were Brooklyn, so to others Music-Hall and Parker were Boston.

Churchianity can only be disintegrated by the slow process of erosion. Joseph Parker’s work in London tended to make all English clergymen who desired freedom, free. For over twenty years he preached every Thursday noon, and often twice on Sunday. No topic of vital human interest escaped him. He was a self-appointed censor and critic– sharp, vigilant, alert, yet commending as well as protesting. The two Parkers, one in America and one in England, made epochs. In point of time Theodore Parker comes first, and his discourses were keyed to a higher strain. Less theatrical than his gifted namesake, not so fluid nor so picturesque, his thought reduced to black and white reads better. What Theodore Parker said can be analyzed, parsed, taken apart. He always had a motif and his verb fetches up. He said things.

His best successor was David Swing, a man so great that the Presbyterian Church did not need him. Gentle, deliberate, homely, lovable, eloquent–David Swing was made free by those who had not the ability to appreciate him, and of course knew not what they did. You keep freedom by giving it away. Swing swung wide the gates that the captives might go free. Truly was it said of him that he liberalized every denomination in the West. Contemporary with Swing was Hiram W. Thomas, the door of the Methodist cage opening for him, because he believed in the divinity of everybody. Thomas believed even in the goodness of bad people. Swing and Thomas prepared the way, and are the prototypes of these modern saints: Felix Adler, Minot Savage, Brand Whitlock, B. Fay Mills, Rabbi Fleischer, M. M. Mangasarian, Henry Frank, Thomas Osborne, John Worthy, Ben Lindsey, Margaret Lagrange, Levi M. Powers, John E. Roberts, Winifred Sackville Stoner, Sam Alschuler, Katharine Tingley, James A. Burns, Jacob Beilhart, McIvor Tyndall, and all the other radiant rationalists in ordinary who gratify the messianic instinct of their particular group.

It is the unexpected that happens. One of the peculiar, unlooked-for results of independent preaching was to evolve the sensational preacher, who, clinging like a barnacle to orthodoxy, sought to meet the competition of the independent by flaunting a frankness designed to deceive the unwary. This species announced on blackboards and in the public prints that he would preach to “Men Only,” or “Women Only,” and his subjects were “Girls, Nice and Naughty,” “Baldheads, Billboards and Bullheads,” “Should Women Propose?” “Love, Courtship and Marriage,” “Lums, Tums and Bums,” “The Eight Johns,” “The Late Mrs. Potiphar,” or some other subject savoring of the salacious.

The Reverend T. DeWitt Talmage was the high priest of all sensational preachers. He was without the phosphorus to attract an audience of intellectual people, but he did draw great crowds who came out of curiosity to see the gyroscopic gyrations. Talmage never ventured far from shore, and he of all men knew that while the mob would forgive vulgarity–in fact, really enjoyed it–unsoundness of doctrine was to it a hissing. Orthodoxy is very tolerant–it forgives everything but truth. Every fetish of the superstitious and cringing mind, Talmage repeated over and over in varying phrase. He was the antithesis of an independent, exactly as Spurgeon was. It is the fate of every man who lives above the law to be hailed as brother by some of those who are genuine lawbreakers.