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very many of them are exemplary, are not, speaking of them as a body, such regular frequenters of all the services of the house of God, (there are very few, we believe, who habitually or wantonly absent themselves from one service,) as the members of other sects; but we will not consent that what we both lament and blame should be considered as proving the absence of interest in religion, knowing, as we do, that many who will ordinarily attend but one service, will devoutly join in that one, and seriously endeavour to profit by it; knowing also that many will attend three or four services in a day, thinking that in so doing they are performing what is required or highly acceptable, and yet not seem much wiser or better for the whole. In short, we allow that Unitarians attach less importance to the ordinances and public exercises of religion, as compared with its feelings and its other duties, than their fellow-christians in general; that, in consequence, some may estimate their value at too low a rate, and indolence will more frequently tempt the less serious among them to a partial neglect of what ought, for our own good, and the good of our brethren, to be strictly observed by us all : but we deny that our body is chargeable with a general or habitual neglect of this kind of duties. There is a considerable proportion of it whose zeal for the public exercises of religion goes quite as far as is reasonable or useful; and we deny that the partial neglect (though an evil) by any means constantly implies indifference or impiety.
Dr. S. has shewn his want of any solid grounds for the accusations he has made, as well as the kind of spirit by which he was animated, in the most unfair use which he has made of a passage from an anonymous leiter in the former series of this work. (Mon. Repos. December, 1817, p. 717.) The writer of that letter is evidently lamenting that persons belonging by education and habit to the Establishment, although brought to perceive the truth of our doctrines, as they are ready in conversation to avow, often cannot be induced so far to break through old habits and connexions as to join our worship, either continuing to frequent the church, or going nowhere. This Dr. S. represents as a testimony coming from ourselves to the neglect of religious ordinances amongst us. We give him credit for having mistaken, not wilfully falsified, the author's meaning; but with what views did he read, when he justified so serious a charge by evidence of such a character ?
The following passage, being part of the additional matter with which our author has enriched his second edition, may, perhaps, be best noticed in this connexion; we feel it to be the more necessary to offer some remarks upon it, because the subject is one which bas excited some uneasiness amongst ourselves, and Dr. S.'s information has probably been derived from papers inserted in a former volume of this work (Mon. Repos. Vol XXI.) :
“ But I go farther, and make my appeal to intelligent and candid Unitarians themselves, whether they are not perfectly aware that a proportion, not inconsiderable or uninfluential, of their congregations, at the present time, throughout our country, consists of persons who do not disguise their scepticism or even settled disbelief with regard to the divine origin and paramount authority of the Christian religion? What has produced this coalition? Why does it continue, with every appearance of mutual contentment? Is not the undeniable cause a congeniality of spirit, and a conviction, on the part of those sceptics and infidels, that the theory of Unitarianism approaches so nearly to their own, that any remaining differences may be well accommodated to the satisfaction of each party?"
Exaggerated as we believe the statement here made to be, we acknowledge that it has a foundation in truth. We are aware that in some few
places Unitarian congregations contain a small number of persons either sceptical, or denying the divine origin and authority of Christianity: but before we feel any shame at this fact, or admit the justice of any unfavourable inferences from it, we must inquire, first, why such persons desire to join our societies ; secondly, what is implied on our part in receiving them as fellow-worshipers; and, thirdly, what are the actual, or what will be the probable, effects of the union so far as it exists. Now, as to the first point, it is plain that no one will attend on Unitarian services from mere worldly motives, because the most open opposition to all religion is not more unpopular-is, indeed, by many even less severely condemned, than the testimony against its corruptions which is borne by Unitarians. Those who in rejecting revelation despise all religion, either frequent no place of worship, or go to the Established Church, from motives of interest or fashion. Those, on the contrary, who believe in the existence, perfections, and government of God, in the necessity of virtue to human happiness, and in a future retributory state-who consequently desire to pay public homage to God, and to listen to moral instructions and exhortations--if from any cause they find it. not convenient to have services on their own principles, will, of course, wish to attend where they hear most of what they approve, and least of what they disapprove, and will thus be naturally led to Unitarian places of worship. They can have no motive for appearing there but what is creditable to themselves the desire of shewing respect for practical religion, and in the purest form which circumstances admit of paying their social homage to ihe God of Nature and of Providence. If, as many do, though in our judge ment inconsistently with the rejection of his divine authority, they regard the morality taught by Christ as most excellent, and his character as deserving of respect, they will hear in a Unitarian service nothing to disgust them, though a good deal which they cannot admit as true, and their coming can be taken only as a testimony of their desire to cultivate pious affections, and to promote their moral improvement. As no confession of faith is required, they are guilty of no insincerity, and cannot be accused of making any false professions—to which, indeed, no possible inducement is held out. What, then, let us next inquire, is implied on the part of Unitarian Christians in receiving as fellow-worshipers those who do not believe in the divine mission of him who is acknowledged as their Lord and Saviour ? And here it is important to observe, that the English Presbyterian congregations, which form the great majority of those now entertaining Unitarian sentiments, in consequence at first of the impossibility of practically carrying into effect, in their circumstances, the mode of church government which they approved, and afterwards of a growing attachment to religious liberty, and jealousy of all interferences with it, bave long been entirely without any attempt at a church constitution or discipline. A minister of the general religious sentiments of the majority of the people, and who is believed to possess suitable qualifications, is chosen, who, studying the Scriptures freely for himself, is to teach what he believes to be Gospel truth. All who desire to hear his instructions, constitute the congregation. There is no creed; no man is called in question by his brethren respecting his faith; the minister does not feel himself justified in going beyond friendly advice and such discussion as may seem to him likely to be useful. The ordinances of religion are closed against no one who satisfies his own conscience as to the propriety of his partaking in them, and no one is subjected to unpleasant proceedings if he think it right to absent himself from any of them; and thus, in fact, until new regulations are made for the purpose, it is not in the power of a con
gregation of Unitarian Christians to prevent their being joined by any other persons who may desire to be numbered amongst them.
If congregations of Unitarian Christians were voluntary associations of persons deliberately making profession of certain common principles, and therefore, of course, excluding those who think differently, we know not that any one could question their right thus to constitute themselves, or, so long as there is no desire to inflict any injury on others thinking differently, could have any reasonable cause for complaint. In that case, though any one might come as a hearer, pone could be a member of the society who could not make a solemn declaration of belief in the same sentiments. But what, let us now ask, should we gain as to the usefulness of our services by such a measure? We should discourage the conscientious Deist, or the yet hesitating Sceptic, from attending the only public services in which they can join with advantage, and which, we trust, have a tendency to correci what we regard as their very serious errors, as well as to encourage their juster sentiments and excite their better feelings; and we should do this from the selfish hope of standing some trifle higher in the estimation of those who, in the face of our most solemn declarations of our belief in the divine authority of our Saviour, and in the inestimable benefit of his mission, can still accuse us of congeniality of sentiment respecting the character and claims of the gospel with sceptics and infidels. Are we, then, ashamed because even those who cannot bring themselves to admit the revelation to which we gratefully ascribe all our light and all our hopes, yet acknowledge that our doctrines appear to them to be those of true and practical religion, and that they themselves are happier and better for listening to them? Are we grieved because almost they are persuaded to be Christians--because they allow the truth and goodness of our instructions, and the force of the additional arguments by which we recommend them, even whilst they call in question their having been communicated by divine authority? We must, indeed, think that those who reject Christianity, even if ibey make the most of Natural Religion, and much more than we can believe would ever have been made of it without the indirect aid of Revelation, are yet in an error, seriously pernicious to themselves, and fraught with dangerous consequences to others; and if, in consequence of the knowledge that some such persons came amongst us, we suppressed the expression of our own convictions, dwelling less earnestly on the claims of our Lord to our love and obedience, or on the blessed hopes which we found on bis promises and resurrection, we might then justly be condemned ; but so long as we are only rendered more anxious to establish the authority of our revered Master, more abundant in our labours to cause his name to be honoured, bis commands respected, and his promises cherished, it would be dilhcult to say how our faith should be implicated in the homage which is paid to the purity and excellence of the system we teach, even by those who professedly do not join with us in altributing to it a divine original. It will be recollected that to such persons we make no concessions; we advance not one step to meet them. We rejoice that the Christianity which we derive from the Scriptures is not repulsive to the natural reason of man, in an age of accumulated knowledge and high intellectual culture; but we alter not one jot or one tittle of what we find in the Scriptures to satisfy either our own reason or that of others, because divine instruction is intended to supply the deficiencies of reason, and, if received at all, must be received as authoritative. We rejoice that any, who agree with us in any great principle, will come and worship along with us; and God forbid that we should
threaten them in consequence of the deficiencies of their faith, or pretend to identify the opinions, however erroneous in our judgment, which they have formed in a sincere desire to know the truth, with the corrupt and wicked opposition made to the Gospel by the unbelievers whom our Lord condemns.
We cannot wonder that those who, on grounds of Natural Religion exclusively, believe in essentially the same truths respecting the perfections, character, and government of God, the duties and expectations of man, which we rejoice in as revealed to us through Jesus Christ, should be better satisfied with our services than with those which are founded on doctrines believed by them to be absurd and pernicious; and we have no wish to close our doors against them. They are not of us; but they are willing to be with us - we hope they will not be the worse for joining with us. It remains to be inquired whether they do us any real injury. What are the effects of the union so far as it exists? We have shewn that it is not the result of any formal agreement between the parties, but simply the consequence of the constitution of our congregations. A place is set apart for Christian worship on Unitarian principles; there is no creed or test of any kind employed; no one claims a right to inquire into his neighbour's faith ; the minister feels himself called upon to do all which circumstances will allow, publicly and privately to improve all his hearers in Christian knowledge and practice, but pretends to no authority to mark any with the sign of his approbation or censure; all may enter freely; and whoever thinks it right to contribute to the support of public worship becomes, by that act, a member of the congregation. Since then, it is acknowledged that serious Deists must necessarily regard Unitarian Christians as teaching chiefly what is true and useful, and as much nearer to them in opinions than other Christians, it is plain why some such persons have joined Unitarian congregations; and it is evident that, though they are received in all kindness and friendship, there exists no formal or solid union between them and their fellow-worshipers; and that from their presence no conclusion can justly be drawn respecting the sentiments of any who profess themselves Unitarian Christians. By their presence we are certainly injured, inasmuch as it gives occasion for uncandid adversaries to misrepresent our opinions; but we trust that no consideration of this kind will ever induce us to change our conduct towards any of our fellow-creatures. Can they, then, cause the sentiments delivered in our pulpits to be less truly Christian sentiments ?
This is only possible either by their unfavourably influencing the choice of our minisiers, or by their causing them, through fear of offence, not as much as they ought to support their instructions by Christian authority, or to dwell on ihose affections and hopes which peculiarly belong to the Gospel. With respect to the first of these means-it is a thing perfectly understood amongst all who frequent our worship, whatever may be their own particular views, that it is Christian worship to which they are giving their countenance : a very great majority in every congregation would be both dissatisfied and much shocked at the thought of any other. No open attempt could be made to substitute services founded on mere natural religion, without an immediate separaiion of those who approved from those who disapproved of the measure: that is, without the friends of the measure meeting avowedly as Deists, which they are at liberty to do, so far as we are concerned, whenever they judge it expedient. An attempt artfully to introduce, as a Christian minister, a person not really deserving of that name, would be inconsistent with that character and those views which alone can lead men to worship God at all, and is, therefore, not likely to be made ; whilst it could hardly fail to be detected, and consequently, if made, could only end in the disgrace of its authors. All who attend on the services of religion are equally interested in the minister who is to conduct them possessing such character, attainments, and address, as will give most weight to his instructions, most dignity and usefulness to his office. In the pursuit of these objects all may join, and theory combines with experience to prove that, in the case now under our consideration, no injurious consequences are to be apprehended. As to the other supposed means of injury-if ministers are capable of modifying their doctrines according to the supposed taste of any of their hearers, they may just as easily modify their moral instructions on the same principle, and ihe utility of their office is at an end. We think it is not wiihout reason that better things are expected from them. We have great confidence in the effects of their peculiar studies and habits of thought, in ennobling, purifying, and strengihening the mind; we have great confidence in their knowledge, that, in a vast majority of cases, the bonest and faithful performance of their duty is the way to secure the esteem and affection of the great body of their bearers, and there is abundant proof from experience that the confidence we express is justly placed. We conclude the whole subject with the observation, that it is notorious that Unitarianism has brought numbers to a joyful and grateful acknowledgement of revelation, who had been driven to reject it by the revolting character of more prevalent forms of Christianity, whilst very few pass from Unitarianism to Unbelief, and with those few it appears to be the result of peculiarities of individual character or circumstances, not of any natural current setting from the one doctrine towards the other. We are by no means sure that on this important subject we have expressed the general sentiments of the Unitarian body ; though, believing that we have expressed the dictates of justice and charity, we would hope that our brethren do not widely differ from us. Many, no doubt, regard Unbelievers with a sort of horror-probably from an opinion that none become so but from wilful obstinacy and moral corruption. That these are the causes of a great deal of unbelief is unquestionable; but a sceptical turn of mind, unfavourable impressions made at the most critical period of life, and disgust at doctrines represented as essential, cause a good deal more ; and those Unbelievers who shew any disposition to come amongst us, are generally persons possessing a real respect for religion, and desire to improve by its exercises. We do not, therefore, wish to see them condemned or rejected, and we have great doubt as to the advantage of the only measure which could secure a separation between us and them—the adoption of a profession of faith and a system of church-membership. We do not question the right to adopt this measure, and we do not venture to decide on its expediency, but we think we have abundantly shewn that there is nothing which either party need be ashamed of in the circumstance of our societies, open as they now are, having been in some places joined by individuals not professing to believe in revelation, nothing which throws the smallest imputation on the sincerity of our own faith, or gives the least cause for exultation to our adversaries.
Passing by much matter of a merely personal character, which, though in our opinion both unjust and illiberal, can hardly be thought to require the answer which it would occupy much space to give, we shall now offer a few remarks on Dr. Sunith's “ Observations on the Introduction to the Calm Inquiry."
Mr. Belsham very judiciously reminds his readers, that since “ all Christians agree that Jesus of Nazareth was to outward appearance a man like