« EdellinenJatka »
them more inclined to ridicule, than to unite in devotion. Are the majority of those, who attend morning and evening prayer in the family, Liberal, or Orthodox? Is prayer at the sick bed more frequently offered by the Liberal or Orthodox? If you, Sir, or one of your family, were on a dying bed, and eternity were in full view, and near, and every moment coming nearer; whom would you desire to visit you, and pray with you, before you, or your relative, went into the presence of God; a good and pious, or an impious and bad man; a man in the habit of prayer, or one who has always disobeyed God's command to pray; one who always speaks reverently of the duty, or one who sometimes delights in hearing, and even in encouraging, those who scoff at and ridicule all solemn supplication? Undoubtedly, you would prefer the humble, praying Christian. For whom, then, would you send; an Orthodox man, or a Universalist or Unitarian ? From your knowledge of the characters of the opposing sects, whom could you calculate with the greatest safety, on finding in a prayerful frame of mind; the more free, at the moment invited, from all levity, the more ready to accept the offer, and to pray with fervor and submission ? Who, do you judge, from his deportment, feels the more at home, and who the more out of his place, and in deviation from his usual course, when praying in public for more humility, and for his enemies? Would an Orthodox, or a Universalist or Unitarian, prayer-meeting be the greater novelty ? Let a deist, or an atheist, or any open enemy of all religion, be supposed perfectly well acquainted with the religious character, and habits of the two societies in your town. Let him be told, on the evening of his hilarity, that there was a meeting of the professors of religion connected with one of the societies for prayer to God, that all unholy bickering, and dissipation, and vice might be checked, and true morality and genuine religion become prevalent in the town. Would he ask, with which society the members of this praying circle were connected? No; he would naturally, at first thought, select those persons who have maintained, in his view, the character of the prayersul. And who would these persons be? Would he say, 'It is not in consistency with the character of the Orthodox to assemble for this purpose; but it is just what I might expect from the Universalists and Unitarians”? If prevailed on to attend the meeting, would he be surprised, and astonished at the strange sight of the Orthodox church-members there; and would he report it as an unaccountable thing, that they should begin in this manner to imitate the Liberal? Or would he rather think it strange to find the Unitarians and Universalists thus engaged ?
Dear Sir, I sincerely hope, that, for your own good, and that of your family, if you find the members of the church connected with the Liberal society, farther removed from anything like contempt of prayer, more humble, and fervent, and constant, and happy in devotion, than their opposers; and if you find, after candid exam
ination, the Orthodox, to all appearance, prayerless, so much so that it would be considered a very singular and irregular movement, for them to assemble in private meeting for devotion, you will join the Liberal society. If just the reverse is true, I hope you will join the Orthodox society.
4. WHO ARE THE MORE ATTENTIVE TO THE PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS OF THE GOSPEL ?
We are commanded to keep the Sabbath holy; and the Sabbath will be kept holy by Christians, and by those who are not Christians it will not be kept holy. Those who are not correctly influenced by the Gospel, will have at least as strong an inclination to ride out for pleasure on this day, to visit and entertain their friends, to introduce secular conversation and reading, and various kinds of amusement, as to attend church, or read the Bible. Are Unitarians and Universalists, then, more disposed than the Orthodox, to indulge, on this day, in unnecessary recreation, to recite anecdotes, peruse fictitious and secular publications, visit their friends, and surround the festive board? Are the Orthodox more disposed that the Liberal, to devote the day to the service of God, and more careful to avoid its profanation ? Examine, and compare their conduct.
Which denomination are the more attentive to the ministry of the word ? As this is a divine institution, all those who love God and are attached to his worship, will be constant in their attendance on the ministry, will mourn and repine when deprived of it, and will desire a frequent dispensation of the truth. Who then, Sir, are the more constant at church, and who the more easily detained from the house of God? Who are the more discontented, when the ministry is denied them; and who, in consequence of their delight in worship, come most frequently to listen to the dispensation of the word of God? Who, more generally, on our days of public humiliation, substitute amusement for prayer? How is it with the institution of the Sacrament? I know, that, as all men are imperfect, there is, in all men, an incongruity between their deportment on ordinary occasions, and the proper deportment at the Lord's table. In which church is this incongruity the greater ? Whose general conduct more nearly corresponds with that which you reasonably expect from those who partake of the holy Supper, and have thus ratified a covenant with Jehovah ?
I might still farther dilate; but I beg of you, apply the preceding remarks, and answer the preceding questions, in relation to all the duties which Scripture enjoins. Decide in your own mind who, in your town, are the more engaged to promote the cause of truth, and who to promote the cause of their own pariy, and, for this unmanly and unchristian purpose, to exclude from all honors and offices, members of the opposite denomination ; who the more disposed to encourage the pious, and reprove the impious; who the most solicitous to educate religiously their children, to instil into the minds and hearts of the young correct views of the divine char
acter and of human duty? Inquire, whether the children of the Orthodox, or the Liberal, are the more generally inclined to ridicule sacred subjects, to profane the Sabbath, and neglect public worship; to frequent, instead of religious assemblies, balls and cotillion parties. Who will be most likely to die with the less compunction of conscience? Who most frequently renounce their past belief when they suppose themselves on their dying bed ?
5. Who ARE THE MORE FREE FROM IMMORALITY AND VICE ?
You will, of course, prefer to be connected with a society of moral, rather than with one of immoral, men. Now, as God is wiser, and better than man, the system which He has given us, is, unquestionably, better adapted than any which man has devised, to check vice, and restrain the vicious. If, then, vice be discountenanced and prevented under the ministration of one, more than of the other system ; if drunkards, and gamesters, and the immoral of every description, do oppose one system, and seek and find a quietus to their consciences in the other; is it not evident, that one system is better adapted than the other to check vice and restrain the vicious; and if so, is more probably true ? You instantly say, Yes. I ask you, then, to look-I will not say into the two churches in your town; and ascertain, in which there is the more addictedness to slander, to improper conversation, and to immoral conduct. I will suppose, that both of the churches are equally free from these vices; that it would be considered as unusual, and strange, and unexpected, that a Liberal professor of religion should be disguised with liquor, or profaneness, or lewd conversation, as an Orthodox professor. Nor do I ask you which professors are, in general, the farther removed from any suspicion of improper demeanor. I suppose all to be equally blameless. But there are some immoral men in your town. Where do they choose to attend church ? If they do not attend either meeting, which system are they the more inclined to favor? Some immoral men, I doubt not, may, by their intellectual vigor, discover and defend the true system; and some moral men may, from mental obtuseness, or prejudice, advocate the false system. But, as a general truth, the drunkard will not prefer right kind of preaching, and the sober man prefer wrong. As Christ was stoned, and the false prophets caressed, by the enemies of pure and undefiled religion; so the true system will be opposed, and the false one defended, by those who are addicted to vicious indulgences.
Do then the immoral in your town more generally and heartily advocate the Evangelical or the Liberal system? Imagine a scene. Suppose yourself, from some necessary cause, to have entered a bar-room, or gambling-hall, or some other place where the dissolute are convened. As you enter, you perceive that religion is the topic of their conversation. Which system is it, and which class of professing Christians, that is the object of their ridicule and their boisterous mirth? Perhaps this corrupt band of “ evil speakers" say nothing of the Orthodox system. Perhaps it is so cold and inefficient, and makes so little distinction among men, that they think they have no interest to oppose it. Or, perhaps they regard it as so much more soothing and encouraging to their vicious inclinations than the Liberal, that they commend it, and those who profess it, and those who preach it. And as the doctrines of the Liberal system disturb their consciences more, and are in their way as they slide down to ruin ; they feel more hostile to it, and vent their rage against it, and against those who embrace it. Perhaps they vilify, and traduce the Liberal clergyman, and extol, and approve the Orthodox minister, in your town, and in neighboring towns; and heap slander after slander on those “bigoted zealots,” and “ superstitious fanatics," who pretend to love their Maker, and to desire the reformation of bad men; and who even dare to urge their fellow beings to repent of their sins, and submit to the Saviour who died for them. Perhaps a Liberal church-member, if he should overhear their conversation, would, in your opinion, return homeward, sorrowing and grieved, that men will thus stifle conscience, and utter their blasphemies. And perhaps an Orthodox professor would return homeward with feelings of triumph. Perhaps he would secretly rejoice (he dare not, openly,) that his system is approved, and the opposite disapproved, by what he may call the disinterested and unprejudiced ; by men who pay no taxes to either society, and of course must be candid. And perhaps he would whisper to himself, that the Liberal professors of religion may pray for his church, may pray that the bad influence of his system may be overruled for good, yet, as they are quiet, and will not be so turbulent and furious against, as the dissolute are for, his favorite system, there is no danger of defeat or mortification. Dear Sir, is this scene a natural scene ? Has it, what rhetoricians term, verisimilitude ? Reverse the characters, and how does it appear? “Woe unto you, when all men” even the vile, “ speak well of you; for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
I have now, Sir, stated the doctrines of the Orthodox, and of the Liberal systems, and invited you to examine their agreement or disagreement with the Scriptures. I have also invited you to examine the comparative adaptation of the two systems to enforce the acknowledged duties of the Gospel. As I have only stated some facts which all admit, and proposed some inquiries, which I hope you will answer with Christian candor and humility, and have not myself pronounced any decision, nor even expressed an opinion, no one who may read what I have written, will accuse me of denunciation or want of charity. And if both denominations be equally attentive to duty, and equally pious, no one can accuse me of designing to influence your decision in favor of either, and against the other. If, however, there be a disparity between the two denominations; if one be more attentive to duty than the other; then, instead of thinking this letter equally friendly to the cause of both, one will think it unfriendly to its own cause, and designed to operate against it. This will be the denomination the more deficient in duty. And will it be the Evangelical? If you should read this letter before the most influential of the Orthodox in your town, and request them to circulate it, would they consider it hostile to their interest, and be unwilling to circulate it, and shrink from the investigation it proposes? If you should read it before the leading members of the Liberal society, and desire them to circulate it, would they encourage the investigation and the circulation, and be encouraged by it; or would they denounce the letter as a weapon of the Orthodox, which they were requested to wield to their own prostration ? If it would be their impression that the letter was coined in an Orthodox mint, and that in duty to their party they must suppress it, or counteract its influence, what would give them this impression ? Is not the reason obvious ? Would it not be, that it is seen, and known, and felt, that the Liberal system is a dead and inoperative system; ill adapted to reform human character and encourage piety; that it is “unprofitable,” and “ brings not forth good fruit;" and that, therefore, it is not from heaven ; while it is seen, and known, and felt, that there is in the Orthodox system, a spirit which produces the same effects as did the preaching of the apostles, influencing man to renounce his sins, and serve God; that it is profitable, and produces good fruit, and is, therefore, from God? Is not the party, then, whichever it may be, that denounces, and shrinks from the investigation, which this letter proposes, evidently advocating a system which is not from heaven?
Again, Sir, you do not know what my decision is, for I have not expressed it in this letter, nor in any other communication. What, Sir, as you read these pages, do you infer is my secret decision? If I had examined your town, and should now give my decision; in whose favor do you think it would be? To which denomination do you suppose I should give the preference? If you think that, in my estimation, the Unitarians and Universalists are the more prayerful, and self-denying, and pure; and the Orthodox the more haughty, and frivolous, and irreligious; the reason is, that, at first glance over the denominations, you see in the Liberal more piety than in the Orthodox, and presume that I see the same. If you decide that my opinion is in favor of the Evangelical, the reason is, that the superior piety of the Orthodox is (so far as you have discovered) too obvious to be mistaken; as the superior brightness of the sun is too apparent to be denied. And you have no reason to doubt, to which I give the preference, more than to doubt to which of the heavenly bodies I ascribe superior brilliancy. For one of the denominations has, in general, exhibited to you a spirit so far accordant with the spirit of the Gospel, as to compel you