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in Baltimore, and then brings us back to Boston, Harvard University, and the North American Review, to show how powerful are our instruments of moral influence. 'Here then,' he says, 'conies the difficulty. If "the simple, unpretending, noiseless Moravians," had such resources and such instruments of influence, they would do something with them.'
This is marvellously taking, no doubt, with those who do not perceive the utter fallacy of it. The Moravians would do something with these resources and instruments! Yes, very
robably they would, if they had, or could have them. But never heard that the Moravians were desirous of having great warehouses, or fleets of ships, or that they intended to enter largely into banking. In short, they are not busy, driving, calculating merchants, because they are Moravians; and the Boston merchants do not devote themselves to missionary enterprises, because they are not disciplined, hermit-like, zealous Moravians. 'The difficulty,' with me, is, how the Reviewer came to think of comparing merchants with Moravians. He might as well have compared them with Jesuits, or any other body of men who give themselves up, or are supposed to, entirely to religious meditations, offices, and charities. And here I would remind the Reviewer, that the Jesuits are older missionaries than the Moravians, or even the American Board, and have been as ardent, as fearless, and as successful as these latter, to say the least. If the Reviewer denies to them the distinction of being christian missionaries, I must leave him and mother church to argue that point between them.
The Unitarians of Baltimore built a splendid church, because they were then able to do so, and to exert themselves in other ways besides, which they did most strenuously. They have experienced a reverse of fortune, and I grieve for them. But I know them to be still earnest and faithful; and were they now in the situation they once enjoyed, they would be among the foremost in any good and christian enterprise.
Harvard University stands pledged with the public to use no sectarian influence. The same is the case with the North American Review. The two last articles in that work, of a theological character, came from Andover Institution. It is evidently a desperate case with my opponent, when he resorts to such mere shadows of arguments to hide his weakness and to blind unskilful eyes. He intimates, under cover of a Scotch anecdote, that I assume to be, together with the few who are desirous of an Indian mission, the only 'true kirk.' Here he is sufficiently replied to by a paragraph in my first letter, in which he may find these words; 'Far be it from me to say, that all well informed, and well meaning, and zealous Unitarians are zealous for foreign missions.' There is more to the same purpose.
That there are many Unitarians who feel no strong interest in Unitarianism, I have asserted, and I still assert. No fact is more palpable. But it is easily accounted for. Some of them, like a portion of every denomination, are not heartily interested in the subject of religion at all. Others are not yet true and consistent disciples of the Unitarian faith; and that there is nothing strange in this, must be evident to all who consider how mighty a sway is exerted by early prejudice over the mind, and how hard it is entirely to escape from its dominion. Again, there are good Unitarians who are not favorable to missions, some because they doubt of their utility, and some because they have been thoroughly disgusted, by Orthodox canting, with the whole affair.
With this summary I conclude; tarrying only, for courtesy's sake, to tell the Reviewer, who thanks me for the good I have done, that he is welcome. Yours, &c.
The word in the New Testament translated idle, means rather injurious; tending to do harm of any description. But if the common rendering were the correct one, it would still be true enough; for idle talk almost invariably turns upon something injurious to ourselves, if not to others. There is a deep and unsuspected fountain of malice in many hearts, springing perhaps from the rivalships and collisions of life, and it is apt to overflow. Whatever makes against a person, often travels faster than the wind. Hearts beat high to repeat it, tongues are eloquent in sending it on, while the generous defence or disinterested praise dies away on the lips of those who pronounce it. What are these'idle words? First, those employed in censuring others; and these are by far too great a proportion of the ordinary language of men. You see friends passing coldly by you, you know not why; you see once intimate associates disunited like fragments of the broken rock, or perceive idle reports gathering into a cloud that bursts at last on some innocent persou's head. Now what need is there of talking about others P Are there not subjects enough besides in the vast range of human science and intelligence, the vast interests of human hope and action? Or can nothing touch the heart but the concerns of those with whom you have absolutely nothing to do? If you cannot help talking about them, remember their good traits and good deeds; place their attractions in the most engaging light; and if you must talk of faults, talk of your own; condemn them as heartily as you will, and do not live as if every human character but your own, had been put under your guardianship and care. When injury is done in this way, it is very commonly said 'I did not think of it!' And why not? That is no excuse, but a confession; for this not thinking was your crime. You ought to have thought of it, and then perhaps you would not have sacrificed the good name or happiness of another, to an indulgence which your judgment, if not your feeling, must certainly condemn.
The vengeance of the world falls on follies, and it is apt to be merciful to guilt. But there is a second class of' idle words,' employed in condemning the guilty. Certainly there are times when we must bear witness against them; but can we not pity while we condemn? Even human laws, unfeeling as they profess to be, punish without hostility to the offender. They aim, not to do, or inflict justice, but to prevent crime. But in society there is often an outcry against the offender as loud as if all that condemned him were themselves without sin Do we say it is our duty to condemn transgressors? Where in heaven or earth do we get authority to do it? Transgressions we must condemn; but we can do this in perfect charity toward the offender, simply by leaving the laws of God and man to be executed without our helping hand and voice. If we cannot submit to this, we must prepare ourselves to censure, by repressing our own passions, and reforming our own hearts, and waiting till we can cast the first stone with a stainless conscience. Undoubtedly the moral feeling of every community ought to be sensitive with respect to guilt; but it need not be either bitter or revengeful, and if all your condemnations flow from principle, your words are not idle, and this censure has nothing to do with you.
A third kind of' idle words' are those used in giving insults, making severe reflections, or the foolish affectation of speaking one's mind, which means saying rude and unpardonable things. If ever the tongue is 'set on fire of hell,' it is when it speaks those passionless insults that are meant to go to the heart; and if any 'idle words' are to be answered for, a black account will be given of these. Yet there are men whose virtues it would be a sin to-doubt, but who, from want of thought or feeling, like a class described by Erasmus, break in upon and tread down the feelings of others like swine upon a garden bed. They might know that the severest blow the hand could strike, would be far more welcome than the remediless wounds the spirit is forced to bear. It is not every one whose words can revive and gladden, whose well known voice throws a summer charm around him. It is not every one whose tones can make the sad heart beat less heavily, or the eye of the weeper sparkle with delight. But all may shun the guilt of giving pain. Every one can keep his voice unaccented with malevolence and passion, and if pleasure is not doubled, it need not be put to flight or silence as he comes nigh. But this duty, for it is a duty, is sadly neglected; and many a one will go home from labor or perhaps from the house of God, and with the best opinion of his own religious excellence, will torment others with his ill nature; will draw tears from the eyes of some, and wring the hearts of those who are too proud to let them flow. The 'idle words' then spoken, will be accounted for in the judgment, when it may be seen, that although he tried to do good to others, and gave them his services and benevolent exertions, yet a few hasty, ungenerous, or unfeeling words undid the good effect of them all.
A fourth description of 'idle words' includes profaneness, a sin for which there is so little temptation, that one would think there could be no forgiveness. For what can induce a man to throw contempt on the name of God, or to send a loud cry to heaven for vengeance on his own head? Surely nothing but madness or unnatural hardness of heart. But we used to hear the disgusting accents of profaneness in every street, where wretches were blaspheming the name of God with the lisping lips of childhood, or the faltering voice of age. Thank God! it is now less common. You do sometimes hear it from the weak boy attempting to be manly, or the vulgar high and low; but it is banished from the saloon and table, from the language and presence of the gentleman, and there is less need than formerly of repeating the threat conveyed with awful forbearance in the words, 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.' But there is a kind of irreverence still prevailing; I mean the light and careless use of scripture language; giving it a ludicrous perversion, or employing it to point the silly jest. This is an unwarrantable profanation of holy things. It destroys our reverence for the scriptures, which need their full solemnity to affect us; and even if it had no bad result, it would not be wise or well to trifle with the word of God. But there is a bad result. Half the texts in the Bible are connected by this practice with ridiculous associations, and excite smiles instead of reverence. Read the light writings of the present day, from the flippant Gazette up to the lordly Review ; go listen to the wit that shakes the senate and the bar, and you will find that their fountains of humor are supplied by the grave and ironical perversion of the language of inspiration, often of the very words of God. The Bible ought to be regarded as a sacred thing; for if we trifle with it, we shall soon go on to trifle with all that it contains. If we have felt the unhappiness resulting from this practice, if we have had light thoughts thus brought into our minds in the hours of prayer, if we have felt how strongly they bind down the soul when it would fain rise upward on devotion's wing, we know how unavailing it is to to say to such associations, 'Begone, leave me alone with God.' Wo to the parent who has connected a text of scripture with thoughts amusing or profane in the minds of his children! Wo to those who in the flow of conversation or of eloquence, forget what belongs to God! Let them spare, at least, if they will not reverence the Bible. Let them put off the shoes from their feet before they venture on holy ground.
I might go on to describe those 'idle words' which usurp the place of religious conversation, which banish it so entirely from society, that the name of Christ, introduced in a company of Christians, except in controversy, is apt to chill them into gloom. Some will say their feelings are too deep for words. Perhaps the truth is, that words are too high for their religious feeling. Any language of religion would express so much more than they feel, that the words would be a mockery of the heart. But I have named errors enough, if we will only shun them, and if we reflect how heavily the burden of other guilt will press upon us, we shall spare ourselves the condemnation for 'idle words,' since to indulge in them gives only momentary pleasure, while it leads to lasting pain.