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It is obvious that conversion, to be such a lasting, rather such an endless process, must be founded upon the most solid and durable principles of our nature. And here I come to the point on which the greatest difference of opinion, yet remaining on the subject of conversion, between unitarian and orthodox christians, is to be found.
We disapprove of all attempts to work upon the passions when in a roused or tumultuous state, to create a merely nervous excitement of the feelings and of the imagination, or to operate by an artificial system which from its very nature cannot be permanent. We think that, in inducing a man to become religious, to take an interest in the gospel, and to devote himself to its cause, none but his most sober and deliberate faculties should be addressed, — that conviction and conversion should be the result of the clearest exercises of the understanding and judgment, as well as of the deepest movements of the affections, that religion ought to have its basis laid in the solid foundation of the intellect, the reason, the judgment, and the moral sense, as well as in the fears, fancies, sensibilities, or passions.
In looking at the human constitution, we learn that the feelings are in their nature fluctuating and insecure,
that they cannot endure a strong excitement for a long period, that they consume themselves, and that their action is necessarily an intermittent state of our being. We learn, too, that they exist in greater vivacity in one sex than in the other, in one individual of the same sex than in another, and therefore we cannot believe that the impartial and righteous Father, who has no respect for persons or classes, would have made them the appropriate channels through which to approach him and obtain his VOL. XIV.-NO. 158.
favor. We learn, moreover, that the vigor and vivacity. of the feelings decay as we pass beyond the boundaries of youth, and fade away as we approach serious, sober, and religious old age.
A christian character established upon the feelings, is therefore, it seems to us, like the house built by the foolish man, upon the sand. When the rains descended, and the winds blew, and the foods came, and beat upon that house, it fell, and great was the fall of it.
But the reason, the judgment, the conscience, endure forever. Each acquisition of knowledge confirms them; every scene of our being gives them exercise and strength; they grow with our growth, and appear to expand, as we advance in life, from youth to old age, as though ripening for a still wider development in the future world.
He who builds his religious character upon them, we liken to the wise man who built his house upon the rock. Let the rains descend, and the winds blow, and the floods come, and beat
that house. It is all in vain. It will withstand every assault, and remain firm in the midst of the howling storm and the beating tempest, for it is founded upon a rock.
We consider the step of making a profession of the Christian name, and of espousing the Christian cause, as a most important, serious, and solemn transaction, as one which ought to be taken with the greatest caution, deliberation, and reflection. Regarding it in this light, we cannot, in conscience, purposely throw a person into the midst of a great excitement, and then prevail upon him, while in excitement, to take this step, any more than we could reconcile it to our consciences, to get a man excited, by any other cause, by strong drink for instance, and then induce him to conclude a bargain, or sign a note, or enter into any civil contract or obligation of moment.
This leads me to express my astonishment at one aspect of the state and operation of things among the orthodox churches. The covenant to which the names of converts are required to be subscribed is so construed by their rules and practice of church discipline as to cause a departure from the speculative opinions it embraces, and a removal from the church of which it is the standard, to be considered as a breach of faith, and a violation of sacred vows.
Of course, whoever sign those covenants, must be considered as surrendering their Christian liberty and bartering away their most precious rights. They also voluntarily place themselves in a situation where they will not be able to perform their Christian duties. For it is not only our undeniable privilege to study the scriptures for ourselves, and to form and express freely our views of christian truth, it is a most solemn, urgent, and perpetual duty. He who promises to adhere to a particular creed, or a particular church, all his life, throws away this privilege, and is false to this duty. I am astonished that so many can be induced to do what no Christian has a right to do, to give up their most sacred privileges, and bind themselves never to perform their most solemn duties. I am amazed when I see ministers, while the praises of liberty of conscience are on their lips, exhausting all their arts and energies in persuading, and hurrying, and driving the young, the ignorant, the confiding, and the consci. entious into a snare with which Christians never ought to be entangled. I am shocked to see ministers avail themselves of the bewildering fervors of a local and artificial excitement in inducing those, whom Christ came to make free, to enter into obligations which are inconsistent with christian duty, and subversive of all christian rights, and into which no individual can be morally justified in entering himself or in persuading another to enter.
We do not think it morally right, or scripturally corréct, to throw a person into violent agitation by operating upon his fears, and depicting in strong colors the dreadful consequences that will ensue if he does not immediately devote himself to God. We cannot conceive how men can feel authorized to declare positively to a large assembly, that the day, or the hour, or the moment, in which they are addressing them will be their last and only chance; that all the means of God's grace are bound up in the brief period which they have adjusted within which to receive converts; that the Lord, who promised to be with his church to the end of the world, is tarrying with them for a few hours, and will then take up his departure from them forever; and that the God, whom nature and scripture represent as omnipresent at all times, is at that moment in the place, but will soon be gone, never more to return ! There
in such kinds of appeals as these, too many indications of fraud, arrogance, and irreverence, for us to think of approving or imitating them.
Finally, we think it unsafe to indulge, to so great an extent, in terrifying representations, or startling images, because we do not believe that they affect the character in the proper manner; they do not strike at the right point; they do not reach the deep recesses of the heart. They produce a result that cannot be relied upon, that may be transient, that is always superficial. The great principles upon which to fix the religious character, are the convictions of the understanding, and the sentiment of love; meaning by love, that profound central affection on which alone we can find a sure, certain, and immove
able foundation, upon which to fasten the chain that is to bind the soul of man to his fellow man, his Savior, and his God.
Although the views here presented are, strictly speaking, those of a single individual, yet it may perhaps be said that in their general outlines they are such as are entertained by the greater proportion of the friends and advocates of unitarian christianity. While the ministers of that persuasion hope and endeavor to encourage, stimulate, advise, and help their hearers in acquiring the new life which the gospel seeks to impart to them, they never permit their people to forget that it is by a faithful individual use of the means of grace that it is to be attained, and that it is for every man to work out, personally, his own salvation.
From what has been said it is obvious that those persons who depend upon others for their religion, who pró. pose to be converted by external circumstances, who desire to be carried away by their fears or passions, to be frightened, hurried, or driven on to the formation of the christian character, and who can reconcile it with their self-respect, to surrender themselves up to the influence of an artfully contrived system of physical excitement, or with their sense of duty, to submit, in a matter of the highest concern to them personally, and with respect to which they are bound to call no man master, to be moulded and fashioned by the impulses and manipulations of other men, will not find any sympathy among rational Christians. But we consider all as belonging to that denomination, who believe that conversion is a process to be commenced and conducted with the most calm and deliberate reflection, who believe that Christianity is a reasonable system, and that the character it aims to form