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long did the Apostles, under Christ's immediate tuition, withstand his instructions? Even Peter, after the miraculous illumination of the day of Pentecost, remained ignorant, until the message from Cornelius, of that glorious feature of Christianity, the abolition of the Jewish peculiarity, and the equal participation of the Gentiles with the Jews in the blessings of the Messiah. As soon as Christianity was preached, it was blended with Judaism, which had power to neutralize the authority of Paul in many churches. In like manner, it soon began to be 'spoiled' of its simplicity 'by philosophy and science falsely so called,' and to be encumbered by pagan ceremonies. The first Christians were indeed brought into 'wonderful light,' if their christian state be compared with the darkness from which they had emerged; but not if compared with the perfection of knowledge to which Christ came to exalt the human race. The earliest Fathers, as we learn from their works, were not receptive of large communications of truth. Their writings abound in puerilities and marks of childish credulity, and betray that indistinctness of vision, which is experienced by men, who issue from thick darkness into the light of day. In the ages of barbarism, which followed the fall of the Roman empire, Christianity, though it answered wise purposes of providence, was more and more disfigured and obscured. The Reformation was indeed a glorious era; but glorious for its reduction of papal and clerical power, and for the partial liberation of the mind, rather than for immediate improvements of men's apprehensions of Christianity. Some of the reformers invented or brought back as injurious errours as those they overthrew. Luther's consubstantialion differed from the pope's transubstantiation by a syllable, and that was all the gain; and we may safely say, that transubstantiation was a less monstrous doctrine than the five points of Calvin. How vain, therefore, was Milton's search for 'the mangled Osiris,' for 'the lovely form and immortal features of truth,' in the history of the church!
Let us not be misunderstood, as if we would cut off the present age from the past. We mean not, that Milton should have neglected the labours of his predecessors. He believed justly, that all the periods and generations of the human family are bound together by a sublime connexion, and that the wisdom of each age is chiefly a derivation from all preceding ages, not excepting the most ancient, just as a noble stream, through its whole extent and in its widest overflowings, still holds communication with its infant springs, gushing out perhaps in the depths of distant forests, or on the heights of solitary mountains. We only mean to say, that the stream of religious knowledge, is to swell and grow through its whole course, and to receive new contributions from gifted minds in successive generations. We only regret that Milton did not draw more from the deep and full fountains of his own soul. We wish only to teach, that antiquity was the infancy of our race, and that its acquisitions, instead of being rested in, are to bear us onward to new heights of truth and virtue. We mean not to complain of Milton for not doing more. He rendered to mankind a far greater service than that of a teacher of an improved theology. He taught and exemplified that spirit of intellectual freedom, through which all the great conquests of truth are to be achieved, and by which the human mind is to attain to a new consciousness of its sublime faculties, and to invigorate and expand itself forever.
We here close our remarks on Milton. In offering this tribute, we have aimed at something higher than to express and gratify our admiration of an eminent man. We believe that an enlightened and exalted mind is a brighter manifestation of God than the outward universe; and we have set forth, as we have been able, the praises of an illustrious servant of the Most High, that, through him, glory may redound to the Father of all spirits, the Fountain of all wisdom and magnanimous virtue. And still more; we believe that the sublime intelligence of Milton was imparted, not for his own sake only, but to awaken kindred virtue and greatness in other souls. Far from regarding him as standing alone and unapproachable, we believe that he is an illustration of what all, who are true to their nature, will become in the progress of their being; and we have held him forth, not to excite an ineffectual admiration, but to stir up our own and others' breasts to an exhilarating pursuit of high and ever-growing attainments in intellect and virtue.
The American Unitarian Association is proceeding noiselessly, but steadily and vigorously towards the accomplishment of its designs. What are its objects and wishes, and what the spirit in which it pursues them, our readers have already learned from the Circular of its Executive Committee published in the Christian Examiner, Vol. II. p. 232. We cheerfully lay before them the following address of the same Committee, for the information of the Unitarian public as to its wants and claims, confident that they will not be urged in vain.
'The Executive Committee of the American Unitarian Association ask the attention of Liberal Christians to the claims of the Association. Its Constitution and Circular, exhibiting the objects contemplated, have been for some time before the public. These objects are the diffusion and establishment of christian truth by fair and just means. The time seemed to have arrived, when the friends of Unitarian Christianity in this country, should adopt systematic measures in defence of their views of the Gospel. Religious sects about them were organized into societies, whose avowed purpose was the propagation of their peculiar tenets. It had been alleged against Unitarians, with no little inconsistency, that, while they employed unworthy arts to gain adherents, they were so indifferent to the truth which they professed to hold, as to make no effort for its extension. It was also seen, that much labour was misspent, because it was insulated; that many who were far from a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, remained inactive from the want of encouragement and sympathy; and that the community were deplorably ignorant of the grounds on which the simple faith of Unitarian Christianity was supported. The circumstances of the times seemed, therefore, to demand 'a concentration of labours, by which interest would be awakened, confidence inspired, and efficiency produced.' In this project there was nothing to which the term sectarian could be in a bad sense applied. An activity and an energy hitherto unknown were pervading the christian world. Should we alone be idle and listless 1 Our hearts embraced the truth of Jesus with no less ardour than our brethren. Should we by our sluggishness give occasion to others to speak contemptuously of that which we most valued 1 It could not be. We were called upon by every principle of duty to ourselves and to our religion, to appear as its advocates. We were accountable for the progress of pure Christianity. God, in the operations of his moral government, acts through human agents, and by leading us in his Providence to those views of christian doctrine, which we conceive to be genuine, he had imposed upon us a responsibleness which we could not cast off. Frankness and decision were as plainly commanded by our situation, as inquiry and liberality. What methods would most probably enable us to discharge our duty 1 We might join our exertions to those of other believers, and throw our contributions into their treasuries. But our labour and money would then be given to uphold those opinions which we regard as opposed to the simplicity of the Gospel, and prejudicial to the moral character of man. We must act by ourselves, and the experience of other portions of the Christian church had taught us that association, though liable to abuse, was a means of strength and usefulness.
'The Unitarian Association was formed, we have said, in the single hope, that by its agency the truth might be diffused and established. The circulation of religious knowledge, and cordiality among the friends of liberal Christianity, are the instruments by which these effects will be produced. Instruction is the great engine of improvement. Men read and listen, and if we would bring them to cherish our sentiments, we must afford them an opportunity of understanding those sentiments, and the arguments which prove their correctness. The publication of tracts is therefore one of the chief subjects of attention with the Directors of the Association. Their tracts will contain candid and dispassionate discussions of religious opinions. Their character will be Unitarian and anti-calvinistic; but it is hoped that they will present nothing that shall offend the impartial and serious inquirer. The support of preachers in destitute sections of our country, is another important object; the degree to which it may be carried must depend upon the funds at the disposal of the Association. That a greater spirit of union and cordiality may be awakened among Unitarians, a correspondence has been commenced with gentlemen in different states. The annual meeting may be made to render essential benefit, by collecting members from distant places, who shall confer together, and who, by their presence, will animate and strengthen one another. Such an assembly will offer the best possible opportunity of devising means for any object, connected with the general purposes of the Association.
'From this explanation it will be seen, that co-operation is essential to success. The Directors have been gratified by the approbation expressed. The sums, which have been received. for the Treasury, have surpassed expectation ; for little has yet been done towards securing an annual receipt equal to the probable expenditure. It is important that simplicity should, as far as possible, be introduced into the concerns of the Association. We look to the voluntary exertions of the friends of truth. The Directors can do comparatively nothing in obtaining subscriptions. These must be offered and solicited by others. If subscribers in each town or parish will form themselves into associations, and choose a treasurer, or if agents will collect and transmit subscriptions, they will relieve the Executive Committee from much anxiety. The subscription of each member will be considered as commencing with the beginning of the year in which it is paid. The necessity of this rule is obvious. Wherever auxiliary societies are formed, it is important that the terms of membership should be the same as those of the general Association. Contributions will be acceptable from those who do not wish to enrol themselves among the subscribers. Ladies are invited to give their assistance by making their pastors life members. Such aid has already been rendered in one or two instances, and will be acknowledged in the Christian Register, whenever it is desired. As the tracts of the Association are printed in fair type, and are sold at the lowest possible price, we cannot but hope that many of them will be purchased for distribution. In this way, an individual may, for a small sum, obtain the means of doing good, and at the same time, enable the Association to pursue its labours. Depositories have been established in the shire towns, to which subscribers in the respective counties will apply for their tracts, and where any quantity may be obtained for circulation. Subscribers are, however, reminded, that if all should use the privilege granted of receiving copies of every publication, the funds of the Association would be nearly exhausted in furnishing them. The amount drawn from each member, who should pay for his tracts at the depository, would be inconsiderable, while the treasury would be relieved from a heavy tax. As useful hints for those, who now belong to Unitarian book societies, we insert an extract from a letter written by a gentleman in one of our cities. 'We will all subscribe to the Association, and let the Book Society quietly drop, without dissolving it, as we hold considerable joint property in books, &c. We will call ourselves and advertise meetings as subscribers to the American Unitarian Association, do business under this name, and correspond, and send delegates to the annual meeting.' This plan appears preferable to any other.