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And how was it that the liberal system gained so extensive prevalence in Boston and its vicinity? It was by the operation of the same irresistible causes. The churches were for a long period at peace, having none to molest them or make them afraid. They worshipped God quietly, and walked together in charity, provoking one another-not to strife and questions-but to love and good works. Truth has best scope in still waters, and makes most rapid advance where there is no prejudice. And so it came to pass, that the Calvinistic notions, which had long been clinging to the christian system, gradually fell from it, and in the natural progress of things the rational faith prevailed. It was as if a man should sow seed in his field, and sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knows not how first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. So it would have continued to spread-and its friends would have rejoiced to see the glorious work of the church's regeneration still carried forward by the silent operation of that Providence which does all things thus. But opposition to its progress was awakened, and the whole enginery of creeds, and combinations, and loud outcry were arrayed against it, and the calm elements which had favoured its growth, were thrown into stormy convulsions.
The friends of orthodoxy are so fully aware of this natural tendency of free and unembarrassed inquiry, that they think it necessary to counteract it by strong restrictions. To mention one example-they lay the professors of their seminaries under obligations not to believe, or teach, and sometimes not even to " insinuate," any tuing
inconsistent with certain prescribed articles. And lest, notwithstanding this, a teacher should by any means change an opinion, he is sometimes compelled to renew the obligation every five years! The rational system needs no guards and fetters like this. THE TRUTH does not require to be thus bound.
Other examples like these might be cited. And how can we doubt as to the inference to be drawn? How can we doubt which is most nearly the genuine system, when the one flourishes by violent measures, and is nursed and protected by creeds, and threats, and prejudice-and the other never grows so rapidly and soundly as when the passions are at peace, prejudice and suspicion at rest, and the minds of men left to study God's word and commune with Him, free from all control and apprehension of human judgment?
8. The moral and practical character of this system seems to us another circumstance in favour of its claims. It does not profess to go profoundly into philosophical speculations, or to be very anxiously engaged in unravelling and explaining the secrets of the divine will, and the purposes of the divine decrees. It finds no virtue in schemes of ingenious workmanship, which may have the praise of human logic. It is content with those few simple principles which God has been pleased plainly to reveal, and which have a direct bearing on the momentous concerns of human duty. It is satisfied to know what God requires of us, without making it essential that we should understand all the designs of the divine administration. In regard to them many things are secret and unfathomable. But duty is revealed and unquestionable. Duty therefore makes the chief thing in the rational sys
tem. To do God's will is thought to be the great and prime consideration. When men have done this, from the right motives, it teaches that they are safe; for there can be no doubt that God will do what he has purpose d and promised, whether we understand rightly or not the method and the means.
When we see a system thus exclusively practical, laying its chief stress on obedience to God and conformity to his laws; we cannot hesitate to regard it as the genuine faith. For we see that it tends directly, without circumlocution or delay, to affect that great purpose of man's moral regeneration which it was the object of the Gospel to accomplish. It places nothing before that. It makes every thing inferior to it. It allows of no substitute for it.
And while we regard it as thus favorable to virtue, we cannot pass without special mention of the graces of charrty and candour, to which it is peculiarly favourable, and which, in a manner, may be considered as its own. I know that we have been accused of boasting on this subject, and that we expose ourselves to certain sneers and ridicule if we mention it. But we can repeat, without boasting, that we still believe to be true. God knows, that, in practice, we are but too deficient in a grace which we so much honour; and that we often exhibit examples of illiberality and uncharitableness wholly at war with our profession. Would that we might be more consistent. But inconsistency with an opinion is no proof that the opinion is false. And, be it remembered, it never has been asserted that all rational christians are charitable, but that the rational system is peculiarly, favorable to charity. The reason is this: That, being confined to a few plain articles of essential truth, it is able to allow
and feel, that on other articles men may differ and err, and yet be acceptable and saved. But those who add largely to their list of articles, and hold them all to be essential, of necessity maintain that men cannot innocently differ, and that therefore there is no salvation for those who dissent. Hence the Papal church is exclusive. The orthodox church is exclusive. They must be so. Their systems require it. The rational system requires the contrary. And if the christian religion make charity the chief grace, which system must be nearest that delivered to the saints that which makes it impossible to judge charitably of those who err, or that which requires it?
9. It is still another circumstance favourable to the claims of this system, that even unbelievers and men of the world are compelled to look upon it with approbation and respect. It never has been a popular system, because it is too plain and unimposing. But then it is well known that men of inquiring and reflecting minds, who have disbelieved Christianity under some of its forms, have become converts to it under this form; and that even irreligious and worldly men do not withhold from it the expressions of their respect.
This has been accounted for by saying, that it is near akin to infidelity and worldly-mindedness. But candid reflection might suggest a truer cause; it might discern in this a proof of the strong marks which the system bears of divine original and truth-so strong, that they, who have resisted the evidence for Christianity in any other form, have been compelled to assent to it in this; so evidently, conspicuously, and incontrovertibly worthy of God and suitable to man, so undeniably consonant to all the desires and wants of human nature, that scepti
cism itself cannot doubt, and the veriest worldly-mindedness is compelled to acknowledge and adore. If they do not give it all their hearts, if they will not make sacrifices for its sake, if they will not conform to it, as they ought, in a new life and holier conversation,-yet they cannot deny it the homage of their respect, and dare not pour upon it reviling and contempt. We confess that, however others may feel, we cannot help regarding this circumstance, for our part, as a presumption in favour of its claims; for it coerces, as we may say, the regard of men, who-with this exception-have been disinclined to believe or to honour the religion of Jesus. It verifies the words of Solomon: "The evil bow before the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous." It reminds us of the days of our Saviour, when it was a signal attestation to his divine authority and power, that even the demons, when they saw him, were made to cry out and acknowledge him.
Being thus persuaded of the divine authority of the faith which we hold, we esteem it our duty to contend for it. We must not suffer our religion to be a matter of indifference to us, but of hearty interest. We must feel it to be important and precious-not merely a good sort of thing, which it is well enough to have, but which also we can do well enough without; but the best of all things, which we can by no means do without; which is dear to us as any of our possessions, and which we are ready to defend and advocate, as we would our property, liberty and life, against any who should assail them.
And truly, if it have enlightened our minds, if it have given us trust in God and access to his favour, if it have