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DEDICATION OF THE NEW CHURCH.
I PETER, Iii. 15.
Be ready always to give an answer to every man that
asketh you a reason of the hope, that is in you,
with meekness and fear. CHRISTIANITY is a religion addressed to the reason of man.
Look around you, my friends, on this temple, which we have now assembled to dedicate to the purposes of christian worship, and see how every thing proclaims, that the religion we profess makes its appeal only to our nobler nature. Here is no pomp of a gorgeous and imposing ceremonial. Here no altar smokes with the blood of victims ; no incense fills the air with its perfume. No priest is here claiming a mysterious sanctity, as the inspired depositary of the will of heaven. No daring hand has here attempted to represent to the senses the awful person of the Being we adore ; or even to suggest through them to the imagination the most distant image of his ineffable glory. All here is simple. All is intellectual. All announces, , that the God, whom the christian worships, is a spirit, and is to be worshipped only in spirit and in truth. The gospel, we see, disdains to owe its influence to the fears of a superstitious temper, or the enthusiasm of a heated fancy. It requires of us only a reasonable service. It demands no tribute, but the homage of the understanding. It accepts no incense, but the secret sigh of the broken and contrite heart. Our bodies, purified from all guilty passions, are the only victims, it calls us to present on its altars; and it is the fire of divine charity alone, which descends from heaven to consume our spiritual holocaust.
* The title page of this discourse, as printed by Mr. Thacher, was as follows : “ An Apology for rational and evangelical christianity ; A Discourse at the Dedication of a new Church on Church Green, Summer Street, Boston. To which are added Notes and Illustrations. By Samuel Cooper Thacher.” Mr. Thacher's Preface is now printed at the close of the sermon, immediately preceding the notes.
Christianity, then, is a religion addressed solely to the intellectual and moral nature of man. Our text implies this truth, when it directs us never to decline to submit the grounds of our christian hope to the tribunal of enlightened reason. It teaches also, that we are not to be indifferent to the manner in which our fellow men regard our religious sentiments ; and this obligation, I conceive, extends not only from christians to unbelievers, but from one christian to another. There exist-it is but too well known-among the different communities
of christians, some peculiar modes of regarding the truths of the gospel; and it is fitting, according to the spirit of our text, that we should be ready to justify these modes of thinking to our fellow-believers. The occasion of entering, for the first time, this sacred edifice, has seemed to me a more appropriate one, than usually occurs, for offering some explanations of what may be thought the peculiarities of those, who worship here, as well as of a large class of christians throughout the world. They have been, I am persuaded, not a little misunderstood; and some observations, though of course very general ones, on the leading features of them, may help to lessen, if not to remove, some unhappy prejudices, and to enlarge the mutual charity of christians. Nothing, however, can be more remote from my intentions, than to assail the conscientious belief of others, except so far as this may seem to be necessarily done by simply vindicating our own. Sorry indeed should I be, if the sounds first heard within these walls should be those of animosity; or should seem to breathe any note, which, however otherwise unworthy, might not accord with those celestial strains, which first announced peace on earth and good will to men.
1. Allow me then to make a preliminary observation ; and it is this ; that we humbly trust, that we do agree with the great company of the disciples of our Lord in every age, in resting on the same foundation, on which all christian faith is built. We believe, as they do, in one great Author, Supporter, and Controller of the universe, in his nature infinite, in all his attributes perfect, in all his perfections harmonious, the object, the only object, of the supreme worship, reverence, gratitude, trust, love of all his creatures. We believe, as they do, that this glorious Being has sanctified and sent into the world his beloved Son, to redeem our race from iniquity; to secure to them the hope of pardon; to elevate the human mind by the influence of truth and virtue ; and thus to ripen it for higher powers and more exalted blessedness in heaven. We believe, that on him the spirit of the Almighty was poured without measure; that he received all that was necessary to make him our perfect guide, our all-sufficient Saviour, and that to all who repent, believe and obey, he is made of God wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. His words are to us, as the words of God; his commands, as the commands of God. We honour the Son, as we honour the Father, who sent him. The truths, which he taught, we believe to be contained in the holy scriptures; and we take them as the authoritative record of the facts, principles, doctrines, precepts and sanctions of our religion. We receive and freely rest our hopes of salvation on what they teach us, as constituting christian faith and practice. In professing this belief, as we do in sincerity and without the smallest reserve, we hope we may put in a humble
claim to the name of christians; and may unpresumptuously say with the apostle, if any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that as he is Christ's even so are we Christ's. We doubtless may err—who may not err ?-in our interpretations of the sacred volume; but, if it be so, it is our understandings, we trust, not our hearts, which are in fault. One thing, at least, will hardly be denied, that however much the religious structures of different communions of christians may vary in form, proportion, congruity, harmony and beauty, the foundation and the materials of all that is serious and practical in their christianity must be essentially the same as that which we have adopted.
Undoubtedly however-though we hope we do thus fundamentally agree with all the sincere disciples of our Lord in every nation and age--we have some characteristic and not unimportant modes of viewing the theory of our religion. Our interpretations of the scriptures, any more than those of any other single body of christians, do not agree in all respects with those of all the rest. On these peculiarities I now proceed to remark.
II. 1. I conceive, that the chief characteristic of those christians, in whose name I now presume to speak, arises from the view we take of the sentiment contained in our text and other similar
passages of the scriptures. Christianity we believe to