The Opening Doors
September 12, 1920 — Sermon preached at the Universalist Church (now the Olympia Brown Church), Racine WI
It is now nearly thirty years since I resigned my pastorate in this church. That is a long time and many things have happened, but the grandest thing has been the lifting up of the gates and the opening of the doors to the women of America, giving liberty to twenty-seven million women, thus opening to them a new and larger life and a higher ideal. The future opens before them, fraught with great possibilities of noble achievement. It is worth a lifetime to behold the victory. Then there have been other changes; Racine has grown larger and richer and the population has changed; many have come and some have gone. The everlasting doors have opened to some of our dearest, and they have been permitted to behold the mysteries that lie beyond. We see them no more. We miss their ready cooperation and sympathy and love, but we know that wherever they are, they are in God’s universe and they are safe all all is well with them. We have had our struggles and our triumphs, our labors and our victories, our sorrows and our joys and some of us are growing old, but I would say in the words of Browning,
Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made;
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God, see all
Nor be afraid.”
Meantime, new proofs of the truths which we advocate have been accumulating, sustaining the faith in which we have lived, for which we have worked, and which has bound us together as a church. New and wonderful evidences of the truth of Universalism have come to us. We formerly were glad to be able to point to texts of Scripture as proof of our doctrines, showing to the people the impossibility of an endless hell, telling them of the one God “who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and assuring them that “As in Adam all die even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
We relied on the old promises of revelation and we still cherish these grand old texts. They are dear to our hearts and they will ever remain in our memories a precious possession.
But now they are fortified and confirmed by the promises that come to us from nature “new every morning and fresh every evening. “ Todaywe are not dependent upon any text or the letter of any book. It is the spirit that giveth life and the spirit speaks to our souls with every breath that blows. Science has been unraveling the mysteries of the universe and has brought to light new examples of the Divine power and purpose. Burbank and Edison and Madame Curie have lifted up the everlasting doors and revealed the Father’s countenance, all radiant with love. Madame Curie, by working long in the laboratory has unlocked the rocks and released radium, a substance fraught with incalculable benefit to humanity. Creative chemistry has been hard at work and by its reactions and combinations has brought to light new powers in the earth and in the air for the use of men. We have not half measured or understood the capabilities of this planet. William Henry Perkins, a young boy of thirteen, became so much interested in chemistry that he voluntarily gave up his dinner and his noon hour to attend lectures on the subject. He went on with his researches until he had discoveries invaluable to the manufacturer, among them that of aniline dyes, and other things which have added wealth to the people. This earth and air are filled with proofs of Divine love, goodness and power. The mountains and the hills have spoken and the rocks and the soils have added their testimony. “The dynamic symmetries revealed nature such as the form of the fern leaf; the nautilus; and those vegetable products in which the regular pentagon occurred or where we find a geometrical arrangement of leaves about a stalk” all show the skillful handiwork of the Divine, and all these wonderful scientific discoveries and revelations are proofs of god’s unfailing love. The Opening Doors lead to no dark dungeons, open upon no burning lake, give no evidence of everlasting punishment. But all gladden us with assurances of Divine Goodness and indicate the final triumph of the good. “A charmed life old goodness, hath. The tares may perish, but the grain is not for earth.”
Not only by the researches of science are we shown the glories of creation, but the scenes of beauty which daily greet our eyes, the song of birds, fragrance of flowers, the moonlight shining on the waves all tell the same story of divine love. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” I have here a poem written by my mother in extreme old age in which the contemplation of the natural world seems to have lifted her above the weaknesses and pains of old age and enabled her to rise, in the entire confidence, into an atmosphere of Divine Love.
From shades of night the morning woke;
Nature her hymn of praise began;
From all her keys the chorus broke;
Through all her chords the echoes ran.
“Praise God” the roaring billows cried,
The thunder’s awful bass replied.
In dulcet tones of music sweet
Each lowly flower its fragrance lent;
Birds sang, the orning light to greet,
And every bough in homage bent.
The sun arose in majesty;
Nature in worship bent the knee
Roll on, sweet harmonies of love
through all earth’s blooming valleys, roll; above the world, the stars above,
soars upward my enraptured soul.
Borne on devotion’s wing of fire.
To Nature’s God my thoughts aspire.
But more significant than even the voices of the natural world is the evidence of Divine life which we see in man himself. When a great heroic deed is done, humanity is lifted up and ennobled and we have the assurance that there is a spirit in man and the Lord God giveth him understanding. Oh, what grand acts of self-sacrifice and high courage, what heroism, have we seen in innumerable instances during the last few sorrowful years, all showing that there is a soul in man partaking of the Divine life. A thousand instances of depravity are forgotten in our admiration of one great heroic action by which human nature is lifted to a higher level, by which we know that man has a soul which is immortal and which enables him to utilize and make his own the wonderful resources with which the earth with all its glories is fitted up for his uses.
When the other day I saw crowds of women of all conditions coming into the polling booth all filled with great enthusiasm, forgetting old prejudices, old associations and former interest, only seeking to know how to serve the state, ready to leave their usual amusements and associations and give themselves to new subjects of study, not to serve any particular party, but only to learn to help the world I said, they are grander than I thought. They have “Meat to eat that that the world knows not of,” there is a Divine Life in them which this new experience is revealing.
The greatness of men, the grand capabilities of women attest the worth of the human being fashioned in the image of God.
It is true that the ignorance of men and the awful mistakes they make, the wrongs they do and the sins they commit, bringing with them, even here, terrible punishment and embittering life, might cause us to doubt were it not that we see that there is a pardoning power in the spiritual world as there is healing in nature.
The river rock soon covers itself with moss and becomes a thing of beauty. The tree deformed and disfigured puts out new twigs and branches and covers itself with verdure and so the warped and travel-stained, sorrow-stricken souls of men shall at last put on the garments of Holiness. Men shall find remedies for their weakness, enlightenment for their ignorance and so rise out of their degradation and their sin.
One of our noted political prisoners said the other day in an interview, ”I have never been more hopeful and more confident in the future than I am today. Nor have I ever had so great a faith in the moral order of the universe as I have today.”
“There is a kinship of misery that generates the true sweetness of human nature, the very milk of human kindness.” Thus the sins of men and their sorrow come at last to confirm the great truths revealed in the natural world.
And so Science: the beauties of nature and the grand possibilities of humanity furnish overwhelming proofs of the final victory of the good and the ultimate purification of every human soul.
And this is Universalism: the grandest system of religious truth that has ever been revealed to man. The doctrine for which the world waits.
A short time ago a correspondent of the Nation wrote to the editor begging him to publish something hopeful. He said he was so tired of being discouraged; he longed for something hopeful. And he spoke for thousands who in this time of uncertainty and chaos and confusion are longing for a ray of light, something to relieve the discouragements of the hour.
Mothers all over this land who have heard the solemn tidings that their sons have been slaughtered on the battle field; wives who have been robbed of everything — companionship, support, all the joys of life; multitudes whom the terrible pictures of suffering and torture have filled with horror, he spoke for all of these.
All Need More Hope, Eternal Hope
He spoke for the whole world that is longing for hope, and Universalism is the answer to that cry, for this the world waits.
Oh Lift up your heads, O ye gates, even lift them up ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in. The Lord mighty in love, rich in tender mercies, abundant in pardoning power. He comes to bring consolation to the sorrowful, inspiration to the toiler, hope for the sinner. He comes to bless the world and to help humanity to rise out of its selfishness and ignorance.
We talk of reforms. We have hoped to make the world safe for democracy; to establish a league of peace; but the very first necessity in reform work is the recognition of Divine capabilities in man. The foundation of democracy is the realization that every human being is a child of God, entitled to the opportunities of life, worthy of respect, and requiring an atmosphere of justice and liberty for his development.
We can never make the world safe for democracy by fighting. Rather by showing the power of Justice done to each humble individual shall we be able to create a firm basis for the state. We can establish a league of peace only by teaching the nations the great lesson of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.
Every nation must learn that all the people of the nations are children of God and must all share the wealth of the world. You may say that this is impracticable, far away, and can never be accomplished.. But this is the work which Universalists are appointed to do. Universalists, sometimes, somehow, somewhere, must ever teach this great lesson.
We are not alone. There is always an unseen power working for righteousness. The Infinite is behind us. The eternal years of God are ours.
And this is the message which I bring you today. Stand by this great faith which the world needs and which you are called to proclaim.
It is not necessary to go far away to tell the story of God’s love or even to win the nations. God has given us the heathen for an inheritance. Here they come to our own city from far away countries and from the islands of the ocean. And here in Racine we may illustrate the great principles of our faith by our charity, by our kindliness and consideration for all. We shall speak the language of Universal love, and it will be heard and the message will be carried far and wide.
What signifies that your numbers are few today when you are inspired by truths that are everlasting and have before you ever the vision of final victory, the assurance of the salvation of all souls?
Universalism shall at last win the world.
Dear Friends, stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important to you as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before you the loftiest ideals, which has comforted you in sorrow, strengthened you for noble duty, and made the world beautiful for you. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that you are worthy to be entrusted with this great message and that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications for these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation, always trusting in the one God which ever lives and loves. “One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves.”
Source: “The Opening Doors,” Olympia Brown, in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social reform, 1776-1936, Ed. Dorothy May Emerson (Boston: Skinner House Books), 2000, pp. 460-466.