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As to the paragraph inserted in the Christian Disciple in 3d Month last," Of there being a Society of professed Unitarian Baptists in Boston"-I have had the question repeatedly asked me.
In answer I will say, We are a small Company of Brethren, formed together for religious worship, in the year 1803, a part of whom came out, and others were turned out, from the Calvinistic Baptists, because our minds became more enlightened in some points of doctrine which thwarted the principles or creeds of their churches; and the liberties we wanted, of males and females "speaking one by one," could not be granted us.
After we had embodied together, we thought best to take no sectarian name upon us, but we would call ourselves Christians, the original name by which believers were called in the days of old; frequently we are known or called by others, Freewill Baptists, as our members are baptized by immersion, as the Baptists do.
As to sentiments, we have no creeds or platforms to sign or assent to; but require of persons admitted, a relation to the church of their change of heart, &c. Yet, I plainly see, and will clearly exhibit to thee, what is desired in the first assertion. Though we have never called ourselves a professed Unitarian Baptist Society,-yet, if the following belief, among our members, constitutes the substance of the assertion made in the Christian Disciple, the publisher of the sentence has nothing to fear from the correctness of it, nor from the stand he has publickly taken in exhibiting truth, (I need not say in defending it) for the doctrine needs no supporters or props of man to make its consistency, glory, and lustre appear in the eyes of good men, who are not prejudiced "with the traditions of their fathers."
The confused ideas respecting GOD and his dear Son, adopted and embraced among even pious people themselves, have been a great grief to the sons of Zion in all ages, since inventions of men were first brought into the church. Yet, though much noise and contention among them have been, respecting the character of God and Christ, there is a right, and there is a wrong report gone out in the world: to embrace the true, and arrest the false, where it can be done "without hurting the wine or the oil," certainly every follower of Christ ought so to do.
As to the question asked in thy letter to me, "Does the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead, usually called the Trinity, make a part of our belief? I answer, NO. Some there may be I know them not; generally, it is not the belief of our members. For our preachers, and leading brethren, who have
gifts in speech, frequently expatiate, in exhortations, upon the glorious character of Christ, "not, as we be slanderously reported," that we degrade, and lower down the illustrious, great and holy character of the Son of God! yet our brethren and preachers are always careful to avoid that confused mass of ideas, of asserting that Christ is God!! but rather exhibiting him to the assembly as the Mediator, Redeemer, Intercessor, and High Priest of Zion. Though some of the Prophets called him Mighty God, &c. Christ himself said, men are called gods. But to return.
The very Hymn Books we use, are another proof of the belief of our members, not only here, but scattered over the United States-in all of them we have the same ideas, some of them corrected from the mistakes of their authors, viz. Watts has one verse which looks grossly incorrect to us; therefore we have altered the third line, to
When Christ, the glorious Saviour, died.
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
When God, the Mighty Maker, died,
Now this is not true; for God never died, never eat and drank, never was weary, never was asleep in the sides of a ship, &c. But all this was true of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things. We rationally conclude, if a King appoints any one heir of all things in his kingdom, he that appoints is greater than the appointed. Joseph was a type of Christ, appointed lord over all Egypt; yet in the throne there was one greater than he.
I hope what I have written, though lengthy, will be satisfactory to thee. If more witnesses are wanting for my assertions, I am at no loss to raise them. Farewell.
THOUGHTS ON THE PROSPECTS OF RELIGION.
FOR THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE.
Ir is pleasant to look upon the bright side; in regard, especially, to the progress of truth and the improvement of mankind. We confess, that we are fond of indulging in such views. It is a disposition, we are sensible, that is apt to betray one into fanciful opinions, which will not bear the test of sober examination; and into an imagination of this nature we have possi
bly been led in entertaining the idea, that rational religion is upon the advance ;-that religion, we mean, which leans to reason; which never contradicts her fundamental principles; though its doctrines and sanctions are dependant upon a higher authority than hers.
We have thought, that rational beings must naturally incline to rational sentiments, when fairly presented to their minds. We have considered the victories, which reason has obtained over errors, once as generally embraced, as they are now generally exploded; and that the conquests, it has gained, it has rarely lost. We have attended to the rules of exposition, which rational christians, so termed, apply to the sacred volume; and we cannot but think they will ultimately prevail; being founded on the reasonable presumption, that the language of the scriptures is to be explained according to the established laws, by which other writings are interpreted;-laws, which possess the indispensible recommendation of being the only ones, which enable us to construe the Bible, without filling it with contradictions, and doing violence to the plainest truths of natural religion, which are equally truths of revelation. We have been gratified with observing, how many of the principal members of society are men of candid feelings and temperate sentiments on religious subjects. We have noticed, that enlargement of views in regard to those controversies, which are agitated among christians, is apt to accompany enlargement of mind in other respects; and it may be presumed, therefore, is increasing with the diffusion of knowledge and learning.
But not the smallest of our reasons for expecting a more extensive spread of rational opinions and liberal feelings in the church, are such, as we derive from those christians themselves, among whom there exists, as we think, the most room for improvement in these respects.
In the first place, it is encouraging to remember to how large a portion of the sacred volume they have always applied those rules of interpretation, which their brethren contend should be. equally applied to every part of it. None could be more ready than they, to reject a number of erroneous doctrines, on the ground of their intrinsic unreasonableness and incredi bility; particularly those of transubstantiation and consubstantiation; notwithstanding, the letter of scripture may be urged in their behalf. It must appear surprising, we are sensible, that they have not long since pursued a similar course with some other doctrines, equally repugnant to our intuitive perceptions of possibility, and infinitely more so to our first principles of rectitude; especially when less supported by any passages of sacred writ, either literally or freely expounded. Can
they say, it may well be asked, that the existence of Christ's body in the sacramental bread is more inconceivable, than the existence of three persons in one being, each possessing his own distinct will, consciousness, and office; or will they undertake to produce any scripture, for the latter notion, that is more direct or explicit, than those words of our Saviour, "This is my body," upon which the former is grounded by the Lutherans and Papists! In like manner, with respect to the doctrine of total depravity, in vain do we look, it may be remarked, for one single passage to uphold this distinguishing article of Calvinism, equally pertinent and full with that, on which the Romanists have built the doctrine of transubstantiation, and equally unopposed by other portions of the Bible; while none can feel, that this Catholic tenet can compare,in horridness, with that of the final damnation of a great portion of our race for retaining a natural heart, which God alone could change, but which he chose to leave in the state, in which it came into existence. Notwithstanding our Calvinistic brethren, however, have not yet seen fit to extend rational principles of interpretation to every part of the sacred volume, since they continue to recognize their legitimacy, we do hope, they will one day pay them a consistent regard.
In the second place, we have much to expect, as we flatter ourselves, from that attention to biblical criticism, which is appearing among them. One of the finest scholars our country has produced in this department of sacred learning, bas, in the opinion of some, arisen in their ranks. In many instances, no doubt, they will employ their critical learning with too little fairness and impartiality; especially they, who are more interested to uphold the fabrick of Calvinism; but gradually it must, we think, be apparent, that such works as Griesbach's New Testament, Schleusner's Lexicon, &c. cannot become popular with our students in divinity without producing such effects, as all must denominate happy, who are desirous of promoting a rational and consistent exposition of the scriptures.
In the third place, although a great clamour has been raised against new versions of the scriptures, various readings, and the like, proceeding in a great measure, no doubt, from want of due acquaintance with the subject; still, but too apparently designed, in some cases, to excite a stronger prejudice, than could, it should seem, have been entertained by the authors of the alarm; yet we are happy to learn, that the Old Greek text is giving place to Griesbach's, even in Calvinistic seminaries; while many of the most respectable orthodox critics on the other side of the water, have urged in strong terms the necessi ty of revising the common version of the Bible. Even the
celebrated passage respecting "the three, who bear witness in heaven," which has been so long urged, as one of the strongest texts in favour of the Trinity, is now losing its authority with its former advocates. A most respectable orthodox journal has pronounced it disgraceful to quote it. We cannot but think, that a number of passages in our common English version, which have been usually cited on the same side, will soon experience in a great degree, if not entirely, a similar fate; not indeed as spurious, but as inapplicable to the subject in debate; and that the progress of critical knowledge will ere long be found materially to have allayed the zeal of our Trinitarian brethren. This zeal, we This zeal, we are persuaded, must decline fast, as Christians shall agree, that the meaning of scripture on every subject it treats of, is to be determined by its general tenor; and that an inconsistent sense shall be attached to no passages, when any other can be found, which the passages will bear.
In the fourth place, we have leaned to the opinion, that what by many at the present day is denominated orthodoxy, compared with that of an earlier period, presents some features of amelioration. On this subject, however, we are not without a degree of jealousy, that our wishes have exercised too strong an influence over our judgment. We suspect, that orthodox congregations are less accustomed, than formerly, to hear of infants being justly liable to the eternal pains of hell. This doctrine, we have been ready to hope, was becoming more harsh to the public ear, even among those, who have been educated to a devout belief of the premises, from which it flows. If it be fact, that some degree of doubt is beginning to be entertained among our Calvinistic brethren, as to the justice of consigning infants to perdition, for belonging to the lineage, and possessing the natures, they had no power to refuse; shall the period never arrive, when a similar doubt will be felt, whether adults may, consistently with the rectitude of God, be doomed to the like fate for retaining the inborn dispositions, they had no power to change? It has afforded us some faint encouragement to find a number of orthodox doctrines stated, in the writings of their modern advocates, in terms as modified and unexceptionable as could be chosen. Edwards used to affirm that all natural men's affections are governed by malice against God; and that they hate him worse than they do the devil." But though similar language has been heard from Calvinistic pulpits, even at the present day, the best received definition of total depravity, at this time, is natural destitution of holiness; a representation of our natures considerably meliorated in expression, and which, taken by itself, would require