Obrázky na stránke

with them the path to perdition. But perhaps it will be said, that what is bere implied may be the honest conviction of the writer; and in that case, it becomes his duty to express it. We bave, however, a further question to ask. Of what nature is this conviction, and how was it produced ? Is it the conviction of bis passions, bis prejudices, his party zeal, bis bitterness of spirit? Or was it, in fact, produced by the cool and unbiassed exercise of the understanding? If none of the motives operated, which we have just mentioned, it must have been, one would think, by a most painful and reluctant effort of mind, that he arrived at ihese conclusions. If we could perceive in any writer that he had been forced upon them by some irresistible error of reasoning, and that he had approached them with all that horror and dismay, which they are adapted to produce in a mind not thoroughly perverted by its miserable theology; we should indeed pity and pardon the weakness and the misfortune of that man.

But such denunciations as we have quoted are no new thing. Since the time when the first corruptions of religion were introduced among Christians, they have been used by the violent of every sect; and have been continually heard clashing against each other, in that mutual hostility by which the Christian name has been disgraced. Does the preacher whom we have quoted, and they who think, and feel, and write like him, venture to believe, that among all those who have employed such language, their sect is the only one fairly entitled to its use? We now know what was the true character of those men, who, in past times, made such pretensions, and uttered such anathemas, as we hear at the present day. With regard to them, the delusion has past away; and they appear what they really were. Jf we would not have experience always in its infancy, it is time for us to recollect and apply our knowledge, to judge of what is from what has been; and to estimate those, who are denouncing and reviling their fellow Christians, in the same manner as we estimate those who were heretofore guilty of the same crimes.

It is a melancholy truth, which every chapter of ecclesiastical bistory may teach us, that the most contemptible vanity, and passions much worse than vanity, may shelter theinselves under the name of religion. A few men, certainly not very distinguished for those qualities which usually command respect or esteem, come forward, and tell us in effect, that they and those who hold their creed, bave engrossed all the religion, and all the real moral excellence in the world ? and in vindicating their pretensions, they defame the living and insult the dead. Let us consider whose monuments, those men, whom we have now brought before the public, would deface and overturn, if it were in their power? whose ashes they would scatter to the winds ? If we were to select from the whole number of uninspired men, we know of none whom, for a union of the most comprehensive reach of intellect, of purity of life, and of sincere regard for religion, we should place before Locke and Newton. But Locke and Newton were Unitarians; and Locke was, in his day, assailed with as much animosity, and in language as coarse and assuming, as are at the present day, directed against the Unitarians of our country.

There are no men who have brought more learning, more acuteness, or more true piety to the study of the scriptures than Grotius and Le Clerc. But the feelings of Grotius and Le Clerc were as different from those of the men on whose writings we have remarked, as light from darkness, as the spirit of a Christian from that of the most narrow minded and intemperate bigotry. What more able and faithful defenders of Christianity have there been than Lardner and Paley ? But Lardner was a Unitarian, and Paley, we suspect, our opponents will hardly allow to have been a Christian. We might go on to add many other names of those who have been guides and examples of mankind. And who are the men, who assume the privilege of dispensing reproach and denunciation? Upon what qualities of character do they found their claim thus to judge their brethren;-if they will allow us to lower them to that sort of equality which this name implies?

In regard to the portion of reproach which has fallen to our share, we cannot accuse ourselves, and no one, we think will accuse us of having been too sensible to these attacks. We fear, on the other hand, that we have been too indifferent ; that we have regarded them too much as a mere personal concern; and bave considered too little their pernicious effects upon the moral and religious character of the community. We may be secure from the fire that has been kindled; but we ought to recollect that wherever it may burn, it will consume the best feelings of men, all that endears us to each other, and will have nothing but an unfruitful waste where only weeds will flourish. In proportion as such writings as we have been considering leave any influence, those sober, honest and maply virtues by which our land has been distinguished, and that quiet and sincere piety which has exerted its blessed influence over so many minds, will disappear; and we shall find in their stead spiritual pride and religious vanity, all the uncharitable, and bitter passions of religious animosity, and all the vices which such dispositions will naturally produce. When calumnies and denunciations, like those we have quoted, begin to be regarded by the better part of society without strong reprobation; it will be too late to say, that they have not had some effect in deteriorating the moral feelings of the community. Men, honoured with the confidence and attachment of those with whom they are connected, are attacked as destitute of common honesty, as among the vilest and most pernicious members of society, as doing infinite and irreparable injury to all around them. If we look upon such attacks with indifference ; if we become accustoined to them as mere matters of course; if we think of them only as indicating a certain violence of temper, and want of manners, in those by whom they are made ; if we turn them off with a sneer or a laugh, there is danger that we shall begin to think lightly of every sort of calumny, that our moral sensibility will be blunted, and that our notions of right and wrong will grow confused.

It cannot be disguised, that the true ground of that warfare which has been carried on against a large proportion of Christians in our country, is that they reject certain doctrines, which they believe to be without any foundation in Scripture, or rather, doctrines which they believe to contradict its plain meaning. Whatever gross charges may have been brought, not immediately relating to this topic, yet every one knows that this is the real cause of all the hostility that has been manifested. The direct tendency therefore of such writings as we have noticed, is to set up a standard of moral goodness which is utterly false, and to make something else a substitute for true religion and virtue. This substitute is what is depominated orthodoxy. In proportion as a man is orthodox, he has all real moral excellence. If he be a hereticeno matter what fair appearances there may be-he is wholly destituie of it. The orthodox inan is to be looked up to with respect; for he belongs to the small party of true believers. As to the heretic,-take care that you do not bid him, Gud speed ; or you will break an express commandment. He is to be ranked with infidels and outcasts. It is unnecessary to say, that these distinctions often run quite counter to those sentiments respecting individuals, which are founded upon our natural and commonly received notions of right and wrong, of what does and what does not constitute moral goodness. If such doctrines prevail, we shall see among us, what has often been seen in other ages of the church, and in other countries, orthodoxy enough without religion or morality, Christians, who will appear to have received a new commandment, to hate one another, and an abundance of saints and religionists without the common virtues of men. The same spirit, which bas elsewhere and in other New Series-vol. I.


times produced these effects, has been actively at work among us.

But the indirect may be almost as mischievous as the direct influence of such writings. There is danger with regard to men, little disposed to become intemperate religionists, that they may be led to believe, that the temper and character which these writings exbibit have really some connextion with Christianity, and are such as our religion is adapted to produce. Their authors are pertinaciously insisting that ibey, and those who think and feel as they do, are the only true Christians ; and that a very large proportion of all the most enlightened men, who have embraced our religion with sincere conviction, and endeavored to conform their lives to its spirit, have been in fact its worst enemies ; men, who, to quote a common perversion of Scripture, have denied the Lord who bought them. The best disposed can hardly prevent their minds from being in some degree affected by what is continually repeated ; and we fear that those, who are not very friendly to Christianity, will be ready enough to take advantage of such misstatements. There is danger that the men of whom we speak will write and talk about religion, till they in some degree associate with the subject itself, the disgust which their manner of treating it is adapted to produce. There have been at all times those who have pretended to be the exclusive friends of Christianity; and who, to manifest their zeal in her cause, have principally employed themselves in driving away from her service, by violence, or scoffs, or outcries, all those who would not acknowledge their claim to this distinction. Such religionists as these have done more injury and discredit to our faith; they have done more to impede its reception, and counteract its influence, than we can wel estimate. True religion produces high thoughts, and enlarged conceptions, and noble desires. It in. fuses into inan a new principle of life, and gives him the spirit of an immortal. It is the parent of all that is most liberal, and generous, and honorable. But what is that, which produces the character discovered in such writings as those on wbich we have remarked.

But we believe, and we are bappy to believe, that some effects have resulted from these writings which were not intended. There bas been, we think, a reaction against them of the good sense, and good feelings of the community. A large proportion of those who may differ from us much upon other topics, will, we believe, agree with us in this, that the religion which is first pure, then peaceable, was given for quite other ends than to nourish spiritual pride and mutual animosity among its professors. The great body of our countrymen in this part of our land have too much plain good sense, and native shrewdness, too much honesty and real religion, to be easily manufactured into fanatics and unprincipled sectarians. To the great majority of those who may differ from us in their views of the doctrines of religion, we think we may appeal with confidence, respecting the unfairness and immorality of the mode of warfare which has been adopted. We beg them not to suffer such writings as we have noticed to have any influence upon their minds. We ask it for our own sakes, and for theirs. For ourselves, as an act of common justice. For their sakes, because the tendency of such writings is to disturb the peace of the community ; to alienate man from man,-Christian from Christian; and to produce some of the worst passions by which the human character is deformed. If our doctrines be regarded as false, let them be attacked by fair argument. We will not shrink from it; but if we continue to tbink them true, we will defend them as we can; and, we trust, without losing our good will toward those by whom they are assailed. If, in the eagerness of controversy, some expressions should pass the bounds of decorum, we will not complain, and we hope we should not retaliate. But let our characters be spared. We are not infidels. We are Christians, with the most sincere conviction of the truth of our religion ; and with a deep sense of its inestimable value. We do not deny the Lord who bought

We acknowledge Jesus Christ as our guide, instructer, and master, as the Saviour of the world from sin and error; we have no stronger desire than to be found among bis faithful followers; to receive all the doctrines which he taught, and to obey all the precepts which he gave. We do not treat the Scriptures with irreverence. We may repeat again, what has already been said a hundred times, that we regard the Scriptures as the only rule of a Christian's faith, in opposition to all the systems of error, which have been the work of human folly and human ingenuity labouring together. We believe that the doctrines which we hold, are most fully and most explicitly declared in the Scriptures; and it is therefore that we hold them with so firm a conviction. We do not separate religion from morality, and teach men to rest content in mere worldly virtue. We teach that they are inseparable ; that the same principles and affections, in their different operations, produce love to God, and love to inan. That morality without religion is de- , prived of its principle of life, and that religion without morality is religion only in name. We teach, that Christian faith is the only source of Christian purity and of Christian charity ; and

« PredošláPokračovať »