Page images

For myself, I cannot understand how any one can speak for another in the matter of his faith. It is for each individual to say whether or not he is a Christian, and it is for his brother to acquiesce in the decision. I have no right to determine what another is, for the power of forming a correct judgment is not mine. Were there, indeed, any universally-recognized definition of a Christian, it would be easy for me to apply the test in any particular case—so far, at least, as profession was concerned. But, since there is no such definition since there can be none without the surrender of the fundamental principle of Protestantism—the right of private judgment, I have no measure by which to ascertain whether a fellow-being is a Christian or not, except his own averment. Each one has his own definition of Christianity, and each, therefore, can say for himself—but for no one else whether or not he is a Christian. Without a test, founded not on human but divine authority, individual judgment cannot extend beyond self. It is true that numbers may agree in their test, and then be able to declare each the other's accordance with it; but inasmuch as they have agreed—have, that is, expressed an individual conviction-their collective opinion is nothing more than the opinion of individuals. For themselves they may speak, because they have agreed on their test one with the other; but the moment they proceed to speak of those who have not signified their concurrence, they trench on Christian liberty, and assume the functions of infallibility. And after

. all, it is only with allowance that they can be said to be right, even in relation to themselves. I may be right in declaring that I am a Christian, because I know that my professions are coincident with my convictions; but what assurance have 1 in asserting that my friend is a Christian ? Have I ascertained can I ascertain with certainty, that he believes exactly what he avows, or what is ascribed to him ? It is not unfrequent for those to believe the least who profess the most, and under all circumstances it is safer for a person to declare his own than his brother's creed. Were the question at issue whether the lives of certain persons were in accordance with the Christian rule, there might be some hope of arriving at a decision; and yet, though it is less difficult to determine by the scriptural test—by their fruits ye shall know them'—the worth of character depends on so many circumstances-circumstances the most varied, latent, evanescent-on original temperament -on early and late education—on social position_on struggles which human


has seen, or can see-on moral proportions and degrees and compensations on conflicts, defeats, perseverance-on principles of action--on purposes and aims and strivings, so diversified and complicated, that, except in a very


general and vague manner, no one but God can pronounce of an individual that he is or is not a Christian.

But I am afraid that it is useless to reason with those who go, to the extreme of giving a practical contradiction to what men no less estimable than themselves distinctly assert. They are beyond the reach of reason, for they act on a definition arbitrarily assumed, and yet do not see the inconsistency of calling themselves Protestants. Were they to say of Unitarians

they are not Christians after our sort—they would utter what, was at once in harmony with truth and charity ; but then they would betray a doubt of their being infallible, which would be most alien from their spirit. No; they are right, and all who think not with them are wrong. Christianity is what they believe, and of course those who differ from them are not Christians. The argument would be sufficiently sound, did it not involve the assumption of infallibility. So long, however, as they have

thing but their individual interpretation of the Scriptures to rely upon, so long are they bound to speak with authority of no one's Christianity but their own.

It is, indeed, no little strange that any men in these days— especially men who call themselves not only Protestants, but Dissenters—it is no little strange that of Dissenters, some who profess to have a thorough and practical understanding of the nature and claims of religious liberty, should so deceive themselves as to venture even so far as to deny the Christian name to men who profess and have defended Christianity. The fact would be almost incredible, did we not know somewhat of the blinding influence of religious pride. Orthodoxy is nothing more than infallibility under another name. The papacy of Protestantism is not less offensive because, instead of one, it has a myriad heads. Every one imbued with its spirit, judges indeed for himself—so far disowning the Pope-but judges also for all the world beside, and means but to seat himself in the chair of St. Peter.

While such feelings are current, there can be no such thing as true religious liberty. Religious liberty does not consist in the existence of separate sects, nor in the separate activity of conflicting rivals, nor in the absence of the stake, the pillory and the prison—but rather in that open field and fair play, which are found when no principles are branded or honoured—when the breath of society utters neither a bribe nor a penalty—when each one is esteemed in proportion to his usefulness, not his profession—when vice, not heresy, is shunned. And religious liberty is crippled—its very existence is endangered—its exercise with the many actually precluded, when any body of men presume to erect their own notions into unquestionable truthdenounce the penalties of mental pravity—nay, the pains of

hell—on those who read not the Scriptures with their eyes,

and raise, so far as they can, society in a hue and cry to hunt down the obnoxious dissidents.

When men who are otherwise good and amiable—the avowed and chosen friends of liberty—thus contravene their principles, and are yet blind to the inconsistency of which they are guilty, it is in vain to employ reason with them so possessed are they by the spirit of self-sufficiency and self-esteem. What remains, then, but for those who suffer from the injustice, to appeal to Cæsar'-to appeal from the bigotry of the church, to the liberality of the world.

There may be persons who think this outcry of religious littleness unworthy of serious notice; and for myself, individually, I reck it not. It neither disturbs my peace, nor unsettles my faith. It is a small matter to be judged of man's judgment. There is one who judgeth—that is God. But is nothing due to principle? That Unitarians are right, I am not about to contend. Wrong or right in their views of Scripture, is, to my mind, a small matter in comparison with justice. Truth, on whatever side it lie, cannot prevail till persecution cease, and persecution will not cease till that spirit of antiChrist has left the world, which does not try the spirits, but miscalls and proscribes them. I deprecate the warfare of hard names. I deprecate the assumption, under whatever guise, of infallibility. These things may serve the cause of the passions, but they injure the cause of truth. They are the nursing fathers of prejudice. They possess the religious masses of the country, and like unclean spirits, they battle sturdily and effectually for the retention of their mastery.

The appeal, then, that I make, is not to avert personal odium - not to supplicate lenity—still less to return reviling for reviling; but to vindicate the claims of religious liberty: it is of justice against injustice, and reason against the passions. I appeal unto Cæsar:' and if any class of men can possess his imperial favour, they need not be solicitous about the harsh noises of ignorance or illiberality. Now the intelligent portion of society--those who make laws in making opinion—who possess Christianity in possessing a love of God, of Christ, and man ; who give the award in all great social issues—these, who are far more the arbiters of social justice—far more the friends of truth-yes, of Christianity-than the tiny souls who arrogate the exclusive title of the Church of Christ; these cultivated and comprehensive minds form their judgments by far different measures than those which influence the champions of Orthodoxy; by far wider and less incorrect views; by tests more in harmony at once with reason and revelation. · The tree is known by its fruits,' they acknowledge as well in practice as in theory. • Ye are my disciples if ye love one another,' is a criterion they apply with unerring precision. • Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother and sister and mother :' with them, as with Jesus, the relationship with heaven depends not on the outward man of profession and creeds and articles of faith; but the inward man of the heart—the life abounding with the fruits of holiness. It is conformity to the image of Christ in its moral loveliness that the intelligent regard as the symbol of discipleship.

And thus it happens that the enlightened public rarely inflicts an injustice, and still more rarely cleaves to an injustice erroneously committed. Standing aloof from the little passions which agitate the narrow circles of what is called the religious worlduninfluenced by its jealousies, its fears, its hopes—unrestricted in the range of its vision by the barriers of sect and party—it estimates social questions on broad considerations-on equitable principles, and is therefore enabled to approach, in its ultimate decision, to the requirements of truth and justice.

Unitarians, then, in making their appeal to an enlightened public, would do well to inquire what questions they are likely to have to answer. Perhaps it might ask—are their ministers men of active benevolence, as well as of varied learning?-are they found in connexion with the several benevolent institutions of the age ?—are they among the energetic friends of Provident Societies, of Temperance Societies, of Missionary and Bible Societies ?-did the emancipation of the slave owe mueh to their efforts ?_have they done their share for the improvement of prison discipline ?-do they go out into the highways and hedges of social life, in order to preach the Gospel to the poor :- are they men of devoted spirits ?-do they prefer ministering the Gospel to the sinful, carrying a healing influence into the diseased portions of the social frame_being harbingers of light and peace and comfort to the now squalid cottage and abandoned cellar-do they prefer discharging these their high duties, to the luxury of their libraries, the refinements of their drawing-rooms, the ease of their fire-sides? Are they men distinguished for piety—not the glare of the passions, but the steady flame of a reasonable and a vital faithpossessing such a spirit of power, as well as of love and of a sound mind, as their calling to the work of the ministry requires of their consistency; and in consequence of the impulses of this spirit, are they assiduous in the discharge of their pastoral duties—instructing the young, comforting the distressed, administering the balm of consolation to the dying, and by the gentle force of a holy life preaching the Gospel from house to house? And are they, in their public ministrations, men who know and find their way to the hearts of their hearers? Have they evidences that their ministry is,' under God, a ministry of power ?—is the conscience of the sinner affected ?—is the prodigal reclaimed ?—is the heart regenerated? Of their congregations, can it be said that they are full of the energy of spiritual life?—that they walk in peaceful communion one with another, the strong aiding the weak, and even the weak contributing his portion towards the common weal ?—that they are each centres whence radiate the warmth and energy of Christian benevolence over the poor, the depraved, and the destitute ?—that they are associated together for the common defence and furtherance of the Gospel ?—that they are prompt to strengthen the hands of their ministers for every good word and work ?-that they give practical proofs of regarding a ministry of love as paramount in its claims on their own energies ?-are they men of God, and not men of the world ?-do they bear the image of Christ, not the image of a refined selfishness ?—do they rest satisfied with resources provided by their ancestors, or generously make every additional supply requisite for sustaining religious services ?-do they direct and encourage the zealous and the benevolent in their labours ?-do they manifest a personal interest in the workings of and support of Sunday schools, missions to the poor, the ignorant, the depraved ?-do they relieve their ministers from the necessity of uniting a second profession with the ministration of the Gospel, thus enabling and requiring them to devote all their powers to the one great work?

These questions exhibit the spirit in which the enlightened public will regard the question raised respecting the right of Unitarians to the Christian name. As these questions are answered, so will be its award. If there is to be for Unitarians any refuge from intolerance, they must show by their works that they have the spirit of Christ, and thus lay hold of the sympathies of the intelligent. Individual worth, and social worth, are the price that must be paid. Over what is barren it is vain to expect the public to throw its shield. It has no party sympathies to bribe its suffrage. Obvious and tangible good meets with its favour, and from the useless it turns away in silent neglect. Who would have it otherwise ? There can be no lamentation from the lover of his species—no lamentation from the friends of Christianity, on the extinction of the worthless and the unproductive-of that which, while all the world is glowing with the ardour of a busy activity—the social, the domestic, the political world—kindling up into new and purified forms, and putting forth power with a promise of the happiest results, should present the uncongenial aspect of a moral petrifaction. As certain is it, that no body of men in the possession of moral energy can perish ; and Unitarians, if strong in the

« PreviousContinue »