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that the principle is false and delusive. Or if certain passages of Scripture have been so interpreted as to favor such a principle, we may infer that the interpretations are erroneous. To show that such a principle and such interpretations have been adopted will be the object of succeeding Letters ; and in doing this I hope to unveil the root of bitterness and show its deleterious nature.
A PRIMARY GROUND OF ALIENATION AMONG CHRIS
My Christian Brethren,
For a long time it has been with me an object to ascertain the principle which has for ages been the occasion of alienation and bitterness among Christians. It is not however to be supposed that the whole of the evil is to be ascribed to any one principle or cause ; but, on mature reflection it is my belief, that a large portion of the mischief is to be ascribed to the following hypothesis, -That error of opinion on religious subjects proceeds from wickcdness of heart. I have not been able to find any other hypothesis
or principle which so naturally accounts for the alienation and hostilities which are so common between men of different opinions; and this principle has often been avowed by persons of different sects. On what other principle can I feel alienation from a brother whose opinions happen to be different from mine, as to the meaning of a text of Scripture ? As every man necessarily regards his own opinions as correct, if I have adopted the principle that error proceeds from depravity, I shall naturally impute blame to every man who dissents from me. But if I have not adopted this principle, and have candor enough to account for the supposed error of my brother on excusable grounds, I see no cause at all for alienation or censure. If in addition to this candor, I possess humility and self-knowledge enough to believe, that it is very possible the error in the case, may be on my own part, this will surely make me very cautious in regard to imputing the difference of opinion to my brother's depravity.
As it is my intention to examine the subject impartially, I shall here admit, that wickedness of heart is one of many occasions of error on religious subjects. In some cases it may be the principal cause ; but in others it may have no influence at all.
The hypothesis that error always proceeds from wickedness of heart, considered as a principle of conduct among Christians, appears to me of the most pernicious tendency, and to have as fair a claim to be regarded as the fruit of a wicked heart, as any
doctrine by which any denomination of Christians has been known. What I have now advanced respecting it I shall aim to illustrate by various facts and considerations.
1. If the principle is just and may be safely acted upon, it is a weapon which
may be wielded by each sect against all others. For conscientious men of every sect must regard every thing as error which contradicts their own real opinions. Each must therefore think that is any one has a right to apply the principle, it must be so with himself. His opponent may think the same. Hence a scene of mutual accusation and reproach will naturally result. But who can conceive of a
more antichristian state of society, than this principle would produce, if universally adopted and reduced to practice?
2. The principle encourages the indulgence of a temper the reverse of that which is inculcated by the Gospel. “ Let each esteem others better than himself”—Charity or love" thinketh no evil-hopeth all things"_" worketh no ill to its neighbor.” How different the feelings indulged by him who imputes the supposed errors of dissenting brethren to the wickedness of their hearts. He will of course think himself better than others—think evil of them, hope little or nothing; and what he calls love will work evil to his neighbor, and dispose him to defame and revile. The more his mind is imbued with this principle, the more he will trust in himself that he is righteous and despise others.
Every man who has sense enough to know that the opinions of others differ from his, may also know that his opinions differ from theirs. How then are we to account for the fact, that of the many who ascribe error to the depravity of heart, só few of them are seen to suspect that their own opinions proceed from this corrupt source? Does not this single fact evince a great want of selfknowledge and humility, too great a propensity to look abroad for faults, and too little desire to cleanse first that which is within ?
3. From the preceding remarks it would be very natural to suspect, that the censorious principle has been much more frequently adopied by men who were themselves in gross errors, than by those who delight in the truth. It may therefore be proper to look into history and inquire, who have been the men most forward to act on this principle ?
If we go back to the time of the Messiah's ministry, we shall find that the principle was applied to him, and that on this ground he was accused, arraigned, and crucified. He dissented from the pharisees as to what was lawful to be done on the Sabbath ; on which ground they said, “ We know that this man is a sinner." He claimed to be “the Son of God;" this they pronounced to be blasphemy, and deserving of death. On which part was the error in these cases ?
Who was in error when Paul thought he “ought to do many things contrary to Jesus of Nazareth ?” or when the apostles were persecuted as men who
turned the world upside down ? Who was in the wrong when papists persecuted the protestants? Or when the English hierarchy caused our ancestors to emigrate to this country ? In all these cases the persecutors acted on the principle that error proceeds from wickedness of heart. Indeed this is the fundamental principle of all persecution. Should it be asked, who were in the wrong
when protestants persecuted papists? I answer, the protestants. The papists might be in error respecting the questions in dispute ; but in persecuting them for their opinions, the protestants acted on the worst error of popery. It has been so in all the forms of persecution which protestants of different sects have carried on against each other. In how many instances have honest and peaceable men been persecuted because they refused to engage in the works of war and military murder ! Or because they were unwilling to engage in sectarian strife!
4. Every man deems the principle in question unjust, when acted upon towards himself. Even the men who are most forward to impute error to wickedness of heart, are very sure to raise the cry of persecution when others apply the principle to themselves. This is surely a circumstance which deserves attention. For it is similar to what uniformly occurs in the sanguinary wars of nations. On each side the partizans practise and justify revenge in their own soldiers, but condemn the same thing murder when practised by the opposing party.