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iheir heavenly Father and Friend mercifully accepting their faithful endeavours to perform their duty, to correct their faults, and to improve their characters, they feel certain that no rational hope can be founded on any thing less than earnest and prevailing endeavours to do right, accompanied by honest self-examination, sincere repentance of known faults, and constant efforts after improvement ? On account of which of these characteristic doctrines is it that they should be judged likely as a body, rather than other professing Christians, to make light of the evil of sin, to find excuses for the indulgence of bad passions, and to join themselves with those who, thinking only of present pleasure, make the decencies of society, not the rules of duty, the standard by which they regulate their conduct ?
We ask, again, are Unitarian Christians in fact distinguished from those amongst whom they live by being less strict in the government of their own appetites, less honest and liberal in their dealings with others, less kind and charitable towards their suffering fellow-creatures? We know that they are not generally thought so by those who differ from them most widely in sentiment. They are often, through misapprehension of their opinions, accused of relying on their good works, but seldom of any remarkable deficiency in performing them. We have no disposition to praise them highly. We lament that they do not come nearer to what, with their advantages, might reasonably be expected. We would to God we could see them more deeply imbued with their professed principles, and more uniformly acting as becomes their high and holy calling ; but we cannot silently allow them to be unjustly and uncandidly condemned. We well know that the faults with which they are chargeable are not effects of their religious principles, but consequences of these not being cherished and felt as they deserve to be : and as the language of Dr. Smith has forcibly reminded us of those whom we have known most truly under the influence of the peculiar religious sentiments in which we rejoice, most firmly convinced of their truth, and most constantly applying them in practice of those whose pure minds, elevated affections, warm and habitual piety, strict integrity, and active benevolence, have been to our conceptions a genuine and glowing representation of the Christian life- of some who yet remain to edify and bless their friends-of others who have already found their faith triumphant over death, and have closed their pilgrimage as became those who had spent it in preparation for that better world, of which through the gospel of Jesus they entertained an assured expectation, that language has appeared to us so inexcusably unjust, so entirely founded in culpable ignorance and prejudice, and dictated by so arrogantly censorious a spirit, that whilst we appeal from his judgment, we cannot help reminding him of the responsibility under which he has passed sentence upon us.
In his fifth chapter, Dr. S. makes somewhat more particular charges against the conduct of Unitarians, which, that we may not have to return to the subject, we shall here notice. He accuses them of being generally, “SO far as station and circumstances afford opportunities,” devoted to “all the forms of gay amusement and fashionable dissipation ;' of neglecting the ordinances of religion, and of not honouring the Lord's-day. With respect to the first of these charges, we cannot tell what Dr. Smith may have seen, but from pretty extensive opportunities for observation, we feel ourselves warranted in giving the opinion, that the members of Unitarian congregations (meaning, of course, those who are of a rank to be within reach of the temptation) generally partake very moderately in the gaieties of life, and are not justly chargeable with dissipation. It is true they do not think every
thing which has the name of pleasure criminal, and consider it as a point of duty to abstain from it; they do not affect that peculiar austerity which is so frequently characteristic either of the bigot or the hypocrite ; but we should describe them as concerning themselves little with the follies of fashion, entering very moderately into scenes devoted to amusement, pursuing ihe quiet walks of business, of social duty, and of innocent social enjoyment.
There is, however, no sect which exbibits any thing approaching to uniformity of excellence among its members : each has many connected with it who are considered by the better part as doing no credit to the principles they profess, and being by no means truly under their influence. Now, it should be observed that Unitarianism, as understood by the majority of its professors, not attaching to the externals of religion the same essential and inherent importance with most other sys:eins, and affording no inducements to hypocrisy, a thoughtless devotion to the gaieties of the world is just the fault into wbich our less worthy and serious members are apt to fall; not to mention that there are many partially connected with us, who, though disbelieving the doctrines of reputed Orthodoxy, and finding their remaining belief Unitarian, have never been brought to interest themselves on the subject, and are never acknowledged by us as those from whom a practical exbibition of the effects of our principles could be expected. On the contrary, among the orthodox sects, including those members of the Establishment who make any considerable pretensions to religion, a particular attention to all outward observances is essential to character : they consider abstinence from the gaieties of life as a direct requisition of duty, and the faults to which their situation most exposes them are hypocrisy and the vices which it may conveniently cloak.' That they are not all free from these faults, is sufficiently notorious.
The Unitarian Christian does not in general feel himself under any obligation to such an observance of the Lord's-day as Dr. S. deems essential to a religious character, although not many, perhaps, may go so far the other way as Calvin or Mr. Belsham : but it certainly is not just to accuse men of irreligion because they wish to be influenced by their religion every day equally, when no precept applying the strict sabbatical law to Christians can possibly be produced, and its practical utility may, to say the least, be reasonably called in question.
It is not to be doubted, that among Unitarians the outward observances of religion are commonly regarded less as the performance of a direct duty, and more as means of improvement voluntarily resorted to, than amongst other sects. Those who think most of the absolute duty of paying a public homage to Almighty God, in the name of his chosen Messenger, will not, amongst us, pretend to determine how many times in one day this may be required ; and as on the question of expediency different opinions may be formed, those who think most seriously do not make the same point of attending worship several times on each Lord's-day with persons of a less degree of real religious feeling in other sects; whilst indolence or carelessness more readily amongst us find excuses for the neglect of some valuable opportunities for improvement. We regret this result, because we are sure ibat all the services which are ever aitempted by us, might be made useful and found interestiog; to some classes of society they are particularly important; and that improvement of plan which would make them all that they might be, can hardly be expected, except under the sanction of a zealous and uniform attendance. We regret, then, much that our people, though
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 froin 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 letter 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 has 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 unfavour. able inferences from it, we must inquire, first, wby 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 wbich 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 bappiness, 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 the God of Nature and of Providence. If, as many do, though in our judgment 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-io 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, have 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 himsell 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, none 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 correct 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 ihey 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 his 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 difficult to say how our faith should be implicated in the homage which is paid 10 the purity and excellence of the system we teach, even by those who professedly do not join with us in attributing 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