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Vol. 111.] January and February, 1826. [No. I.
The editorial department of the Christian Examiner passes with the present number into other hands. It will be conducted on the same principles, maintain the same doctrines, and its contents be supplied by the same writers as heretofore. It has advocated no doctrines, however, and been conducted on no principles which forbid making a change, whenever a change shall appear to be an improvement. Indeed, it owes its existence to the demands of an inquiring and improving age; and, unless it keep up with, or in advance of the progress of the times, it will be left behind to perish;—a consummation, which, we trust, we have a higher motive than that of any worldly interest for striving to prevent. For in the purer and nobler views of God and his religion we believe it our happiness to possess, we have received a treasure which we are afraid to hoard ; and, in the power and opportunity for disseminating them, talents we dare not bury in the earth. We feel it our bounden duty, by the best means we can compass, to introduce these views to other minds, and to recommend them to other hearts.
But it would be idle to attempt the propagation of truth, without endeavouring at the same time to eradicate errour. Both cannot long flourish together, and the thorns, if suffered to grow up unmolested, may come near to choke the good seed. At the first preaching of Christianity, the world, it is on all hands admitted, was full of errours and abuses, which our religion is doubtless to be the means of destroying. But
vol. III. No. I. 1
it is not the way of God's providence, to effect great moral and intellectual changes in an instant; and we accordingly find many of these errours and abuses still existing—variously modified, it is true, but substantially the same. The doctrines of the trinity, and of a natural depravity, to instance in no more, we can trace to ages long before the Christian era. Others besides have since sprung up, and are ripening together with them for the fire. Not a few, both of the old ones and the new, we think we have detected in the religious systems of the day, and mean to do our best to expose them. Nor can we help feeling a holy pride in the dignity of this enterprise, as being labourers together with Christ and with God.
There is doubtless always something offensive in high pretensions. But, if our faith is not so pure as we think it, if we are deceived in the estimation in which we hold it, still, so long as we are honest in believing, diligent to inquire, and open to conviction, our duty with regard to it is the same; and to all who think us conceited or presuming, it is enough if we can answer we have weighed the matter well, and in our attachment to the result, are conscientious and sincere. Besides, we profess to be Christians, not because we happened to be born in a Christian land, but because we have convinced ourselves at the bar of reason and by the tests of examination and inquiry, that Christianity is indeed a voice from heaven, is true, and what it portends to be,—good tidings of great joy. We are Unitarians, because, having searched the scriptures not with other men's eyes, but our own, we find the simple doctrines of Unitarianism written in strong lines of light upon every page of our Bibles. We are not deists or Jews, because we cannot in conscience be either. We are not Calvinists, because we call no man master, and because the doctrines of Calvinism seem to us as repugnant to common sense as they are to the simple teachings of Jesus. Hence we think we have some right to hold the language, and take the position we do.
Again, Unitarians are thought too rational. But common sense and reason we are willing to follow whithersoever they may lead us. Nor do we fear that they will ever entice men from, but are confident that it will be they alone that will ever bring men to, the light of revelation. We are confirmed in these views by the fact, that our Saviour appears to have had Ho such dread of the interference of reason with matters of faith, as some in these latter days seem to entertain. On the contrary, he acknowledged that all his claims, and all the claims of his religion, were to be submitted to, and must abide the scrutiny of the human understanding. Whether he was to be received or rejected in the high character he pretended to sustain, it was, according to him, for common reason to determine. To the same faculties by which we ascertain the signs of an approaching storm in the heavens, did he appeal for a decision on the signs of his coming ;*—submitting the momentous question whether he were indeed the sent of God, to be solved by the same rational powers that guide and govern us in the ordinary concerns of life. And he submitted it cheerfully and deliberately, not only with no apparent feeling of contempt, but even with a show of respect for the tribunal; and confidently and unreservedly, as if he doubted not for an instant, what would be its judgment. Thus, never in the discharge of his high office, did he forget for a moment, that he had to do with men,—not with blind machines, but with men,—with beings endowed with reason;—created beings indeed, and as such wholly dependent for all their powers, upon their Creator;—but also beings upon whom that Creator had bestowed as the noblest of their powers, and imposed as the most commanding of their duties, an ability to determine themselves, and an obligation to act only accordiug to the perceptions of their own understandings. This ability he did not come to destroy,—this obligation he did not come to dissolve. Though the messenger and acting with the authority of Almighty God, he submitted every thing to the weak and fallible judgments of men, with no attempt to force conviction, no arbitrary requirement of submission, no assumption of command. To receive or reject him, or his religion, after he had exhibited the simple sublimity, the thorough reasonableness of his doctrines, was left, a matter of perfect freedom, with each man's own conscience and his God. With the universe at his command, stilling the tempest with a word, and calling the very dead from their graves, he never, in the whole course of his ministry, offered violence to a single dictate of the human will, wrought no miracles in the secret chambers of the mind, nor suspended for an instant, a single law of that moral and intellectual world he was sent to enlight
en, and to save. When dust returned to dust, and the body mouldered in the earth from which it came, he could reunite its scattered elements, recall the spirit back again from the God who gave it, and put understanding in its inward parts once more. But the delicate chain of human thoughts he left untouched, to itself, and as he found it,—uncontrouled, except by its own laws and the mind that holds it. These laws are now what they were then, and while nature stands, what they are now will they continue to be. If, therefore, we do but consult our reason in fixing our faith, whatever may be our reproach here upon earth, we apprehend not the disapprobation of our final judge. On the contrary, it does seem to us, that to be of any value in the sight of heaven, our religion must be a rational religion, the result of our own inquiries, enlightened indeed by whatever rays God may please to scatter around us, but still free and uncontrouled, or it can give us no title to His glorious rewards.
Now if these things be really so, how great, how overwhelming is our responsibility! What a burden of duty does it impose! How innumerable are the calls to exertion and thoughtfulness, that pierce our ears as with the sound of a trumpet! If we are to be the unshackled choosers of our own religion, how diligent ought we to be in gathering materials for our decision! how solicitous that they should be the very best of their kind! Certainly no one, in an affair of such moment, would willingly or carelessly choose amiss. There can be no one, who would not eagerly seize every means put within his reach, to enable him to choose aright. But how can one be sure his preference is a correct one, unless he examine and compare? unless he set different systems together, and impartially weigh their values? We do not mean that it is every man's duty to become an expert controvertist—thoroughly acquainted with all the creeds of christendom, with all their subtilties and hairbreadth distinctions. But that it is incumbent upon him, that it is his duty, to use all the means of rendering his faith a correct ant. pure one, which God has given him, applying the powers of his mind to understand what he reads in God's word, and why he is bound to believe it. If he has not the opportunities and powers of a Locke or a Newton, he is not bound to aim at their acquirements or their skill. To whom much is given, of him, indeed, much is required. But to whom little, less. Of a snail is not expected the swiftness of an eagle; nor of a worm the understanding of a man; nor of every man a mind equal to that of some men. But there is for the snail, the eagle, the worm and every man, a proper sphere, and its corresponding duties. All men can at least read their bibles, and thanks be to God, there is enough there that is plain and easily understood, to insure any one, if made the rule of his conduct, an entrance to God's kingdom. This we can do, and even if we do no more, we may rely upon the approbation of him, who will see and accept in us, what he saw and accepted in Mary, when he said,' she hath wrought a good work'—' she hath done what she could!'
But, if a proper religious belief is a rational thing, and should be the result of our own convictions, what can be plainer than that it requires us to reject from our faith, or rather to spurn from all pretence of our faith, whatever we cannot bring our selves cordially and with the assent of our reason, to embrace and approve? 'If the Lord be God,' said Elijah, ' follow him ; but if Baal, follow him.' If our religion will not bear the light, if it cannot stand the test of examination, if it tremble and shake in the grasp of reason, if the fabrick need the props and shores of sophistry, evasion and falsehood, to keep it standing, why then it had better fall. It is not a house of God's building. If it cannot bear the truth in its full blaze, if it cannot resist the shock of ages and the world, it is not a work of the Almighty's. Some less skilful architect has contrived it—some weaker hand has raised it; and to call it God's, and pay it the reverence we would His workmanship, is a mockery, and a sin! We fear there is many a structure of the kind still kept standing, however, that has many a doubtful and trembling supporter. But why doubt or tremble? Does any scheme of religion destroy God's perfections? It cannot be true. Does any system represent the God, whom we know will render to every man according to his works, as a being that acts from the undistinguishing impulse of a resistless will, without regard to the good or ill desert of his creatures? It must be false. Does a system
Eaint the God of mercies who knoweth our frame and remembereth we are dust, as a cruel and remorseless tyrant, requiring us to believe contradictions and do impossibilities, delighting in the misery and destruction of his creatures, and even laughing, as it were with a fiend-like joy, to see them sinking