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interpretation, no guides for the pursuit of truth. The mind was at last awakened to religious investigations, and the
general interest in such pursuits has been increasing ever since.
We may now observe the results of the former state of things ; and they will best be seen by an example. If you go into one of our villages where the spirit of inquiry has not long existed to any considerable extent, you will find those who still cling to the Orthodox views in which they were educated, but who can give few reasons for the faith that is in them, and when pressed by difficulties are unable to meet them ; a few, holding the same opinions, whose faith rests on a surer basis ; a few, also, and but a few, who have worked their way to better views; and then, a class more numerous than all the others, who may be said to have no religious views, or next to none; and, finally, some who do not spurn the name of Deist. If I may judge from what I have seen and heard, this illustration will apply to many of our towns in the interior. In other places, where the spirit of inquiry has existed longer, there is, of course, more rational conviction on religious subjects. Still, wherever you go, you will find too many who have no settled opinions, whose notions of the nature of religion are vague and indistinct, who need to be told not so much what is true as how to acquire it, and who want the right principles of interpreting the Scriptures. Those among them who are true inquirers are often perplexed, anxious, and fearful. They would receive the truth with gladness, they would pursue it earnestly; but they need to be guided by those lights which those have found who are now before them. The errors which they have been wont to respect are yet venerable. The force of education is still strong. They are afraid of something, they hardly know what - afraid, perhaps, that some inauspicious breeze may strand their frail bark on the barrenness of infidelity. They need, therefore, to be encouraged. They need to be told that the very highest reverence for God and truth demands that they modestly, but fearlessly, pursue their inquiries, – that they reject every doctrine, however dear or venerable, which is not sanctioned by revelation, and receive without hesitation whatever they believe God has declared, be the anticipated consequences what they may.
I doubt not that your journal will direct its efforts to these important objects, and I pray God that it may be successful.
I have extended this letter to an unreasonable length, and will conclude by again expressing my satisfaction at the appearance of your prospectus.
Yours, very sincerely,
A UNITARIAN. Cambridge, Dec. 3, 1833.
A Holy Life the most Persuasive Argument.
For a short time after the ascension of Christ, God wrought with his apostles by signs and wonders; but the arm of power was soon drawn back into heaven, and the work of propagating the gospel was then left to human charity. Now there is nothing that tends so much to retard the progress of the christian religion as the unholy lives of its professors; on the other hand, there is nothing so well adapted to aid its propagation as the holy lives and conversation of its professors. To show this, we have only to glance at the history and present state of the christian church.
The conversation of the apostles was worthy of the gospel. They were blameless in the sight of enemies as well as of friends. Malice itself could find no charge against them, except that they were defenders of a faith every where spoken against. Their first disciples were imitators of them. “See how these Christians love one another!” was the remark even of the Pagans concerning them. In an accusation brought against the early Christians by the celebrated Pliny, he states that it was a part of their regular religious service to bind themselves by an oath to lead pure and honest lives. While this was the character of the christian church, it grew in spite of the rage of the persecutor. The blood of its martyrs was a seed from which sprang a most abundant harvest. The purity with which the Christians lived, the fortitude with which they suffered, the triumphant hope with which they died, called forth the admiration of their enemies, and often changed them from enemies to friends. The very men who bound the martyr to the stake
often left it Christians. The name of Jesus was, ere long, preached throughout the then known world. Christianity soon mounted the throne of the Cæsars. But its elevation was a curse to its prosperity. Its ministers, when they put on purple and scarlet, dropped the garment of righteousness; and, when they began to fare sumptuously in kings' palaces, they forgot the example of the meek and lowly Jesus. Corruption and spiritual death brooded over the church; and then its borders ceased to be enlarged, except by the power of the sword. There was then nothing to draw unbelievers into its fold. The conduct of Christians was no better, and hence there was no reason to suppose their faith any better, than that of the surrounding heathen. And from that time to the date of the Reformation, hardly any accessions, except by force, were made from Paganism to Christianity. Since the Reformation, the moral character of Christendom has been constantly improving; and the prospects of the missionary enterprise have been in the same proportion constantly brightening.
But now, what is the greatest obstacle to the christianizing of the world ? It is the unchristian conduct of those who call themselves, or are called, Christians. Our North American Indian will point to his white neighbours, and say : “ These are the men who first taught us the vice, and who give us the means, of intoxication. These are the men who cheat us and lie to us, and teach us to cheat and lie. They call themselves Christians, and want us to be Christians too. But our religion never taught us to take advantage of each other's ignorance, or to take by violence or fraud the, property of those at peace with us.
Our great Spirit approves not of such deeds nor of those who practise them, nor will He permit his children to embrace your religion.” The Hindoo will point to the European or American sailors, and say : “ These are your Christians blush not to wallow in vices which we abhor even to name. Better that a few devotees should crush themselves beneath Juggernaut's car, better that a few widows should fall victims to their nuptial vows, than that our people should be stained with such crimes as these christian sailors commit.” The African will point with a tearful eye and an aching heart to the slave-ship, as she leaves his shore.
“ There were men here,” he will say, “not long since, who tried to persuade us to become Christians. That cursed ship was manned by Christians. The religion of our fathers did not teach them
to send their prisoners of war into bondage in a strange land. These Christians taught us this lesson. It is Christians who send their ships across the deep hither, to lade them with the living spoils of war and treachery. We want not the religion of such men ;
our own is better.' And to those heathen who are so situated as to behold the internal state of the christian church, what a picture must it present !
“ How can they,” might an intelligent heathen justly say, “ how can these Christians call theirs a religion of peace and love? Is it not rather one of strife and dissension, of pride and vainglorying ? When we go up to worship, we reach forth the hand to every fellow-worshipper, and should disdain to feast upon a sacrifice of strife. But these men quarrel, and rail at each other, and abuse each other, even in the temple of their God. Let us keep peace among ourselves, and not endanger it by changing our religion.”
Such are the wounds which Christ receives in the house of his professed friends. His avowed enemies have done his cause comparatively little harm.
That cause can never flourish, till those who call themselves his friends are his friends indeed, and show themselves such by keeping his commandments. The word of God gives us reason to expect the universal supremacy of Christianity. But before that can take place, there must be a revival of pure and undefiled religion throughout Christendom, — all the inhabitants of christian countries must exhibit such a conversation as becometh the gospel ; and then the gospel will have free course and be glorified. Then every ambassador, every traveller, every sailor, will be a missionary of the cross. Those who now sit in darkness will not be long in learning that justice and truth and mercy govern the hearts and lives of all who dwell in christian lands, and they too will court the beams of the Sun of righteousness. But this moral renovation in Christendom is to be produced by individual effort, by individual holiness. Let every one live as the gospel requires, and he does vastly more towards the diffusion of the gospel, than he could otherwise do, by bestowing upon benevolent objects all his time, or the whole of his property, however large.
We have seen how Paganism has thriven through the unholiness of Christians. We remark, further, that modern infidelity is a viper born and nourished in the very bosom of the christian church. The period when infidelity prevailed nost in England was a time when the clergy of the established church were indolent, dissipated, utterly careless of the souls under their charge; when the dissenting ministers were zealous, indeed, but intolerant in their zeal, and ready to commit murder and almost every other crime in the name of the Lord. We all know how completely infidelity deluged France toward the close of the last century. The priests were banished or guillotined, the churches closed, the sabbath voted out of existence by the great assembly of the nation, and prayers offered and hymns sung to the statue of liberty, in mockery of the supreme Divinity, while rivers of blood rolled down the streets of Paris at the bidding of men who literally trampled upon the cross. And all this sin was chargeable upon nominal Christians. It was the unholiness, the corruption of Christians, that made the most learned and influential men of France infidels. For many ages piety had been a rare gift among the more prominent of the French clergy. Many of them had lived in the open indulgence of the most degrading vices, had wasted, at court, at the theatre, and in riotous living, money extorted from the necessities of the people, and had evinced as little practical belief in God, heaven, and spiritual things, as if life had been a dream, the judgment a bug-bear, God and Christ fictitious personages. And the people had too willingly followed the example of their spiritual guides. They had gone statedly to the sanctuary, had heard a religious service in an unknown tongue, had partaken of the consecrated bread, and then had gone back to the world to mingle in its dissipation and its knavery, without knowing a single principle of the gospel to restrain them from iniquity. The unholy lives of its professors led thinking men to doubt, and ultimately to deny, the divine origin of Christianity. They thought the credentials of a system, which had such unworthy professors, not even worth examining; and they therefore rejected the gospel without examination. A system, which numbered among its guardians, among its priests, the friends of all manner of iniquity, they thought deserving of the most violent opposition; and they therefore strove to subvert Christianity. They succeeded, and, for a short time, made this fickle nation a nation of infidels.