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American Unitarian association.



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BOSTON, Press of Isaac R. Butts,


Experience worketh hope, and this hope maketh not ashamed.-PAUL.

The subject I purpose to consider in these pages is religious experience. I design to offer some plain remarks on the importance, misapprehensions, characteristics, and methods of experimental religion. A discourse embracing topics such as these, cannot be deemed unworthy the attention of any who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ; since it will be readily conceded, that the great end of his divine mission was to make men experimentally acquainted with what religion unfolds and enjoins ; and since, as every one must acknowledge, there is no point upon which Christians, of whatever denomination, ought to find a higher degree of satisfaction in dwelling, than the practical tendencies of their faith.

I. In asking attention, in the first place, to the importance of experimental religion, I begin with expressing the hope that, if, in any mind attached to liberal views of Christianity, unpleasant thoughts are apt to be associated with the topic in consequence of the extremes Lo which some have been forced in seasons of unusual excitement, they will not be set to the account of religious experience, properly understood, but to that only of the extravagances which have at times accompanied it. The thing itself, apart from its abuses and viewed in its true light and relations, can appear to none more worthy of deepest concern, than it ought to the class of Christians to which we belong. Indeed, not to attach infinite importance to the religion that is truly experimental, would be inconsistent with our declared, nay, with our most cherished principles. Much as we admire our system of faith, in a speculative regard, we know and we teach, that it must be in vain for us unless we make it a matter of individual, personal experience. Were it not for its power to enlighten, sanctify, and save the soul, we should account it as a useless thing. For this power, unequalled as we think it, we esteem our faith above all price; for this we cling to it as to our life; for this we would not shrink from any sacrifice to uphold it in the world. Indeed, there is not, I am persuaded, nor ever has been, any system, which, alike as to what it denies of the popular creed, as to what it affirms to be of revealed truth, and as to what belongs to it in common with the notices we are compelled to take of human life and divine providence, is so well adapted, as Unitarian Christianity, to commend the importance of the religion that is thoroughly experimental ; since, as I sincerely believe, there is, and there has been, none, which so uniformly, so decidedly, and so strongly, as this, asserts its claim and evinces its power, to deepen the sense of individual responsibleness, to enforce the obligation of personal endeavor, and to press home the great truth that no man's hopes ought, in a religious respect, to be better than his experiences.

1. First, can any thing be better suited to this end than

what our system denies of the popular creed? Why, but for the importance we attach to experimental religion, do we deem it worthy of so much effort to be rid of those false grounds of hope, that have for ages prevented the doctrines of Jesus from bearing upon men's consciences with the pressure of unquestionable truth? Why else, for instance, do we plead no hereditary impotency as an excuse for our sins; hold to no transfer of the penalty of our guilt to a substituted victim; trust in no righteousness as imputable to us but our own; cherish no hope of special help from heaven except we try to help ourselves ; rely on no faith without works; recognize no condition of salvation but personal holiness; depend on nothing for acceptance with God but our own character and the mercy of our heavenly Father as made known to us by his blessed Son ?

2. Again, can any thing more strongly evince the importance of experimental religion, than what our system affirms to be of divine revelation? Why, but for our deep sense of this, do we lay so much stress on those truths of scripture, which are practical; whieh imply the obligations, suggest the motives, and prescribe the rules of duty; which, in a word, require of us the greatest amount of virtue? Why, for example, do we prize so highly the belief that we were born with pure hearts, but that we may feel ourselves bound to keep the treasure unsullied; the belief that we have the power, moral as well as physical, to do our duty, but that we may not wait for supernatural influence before we set about it; the belief that God's love to his children is free, unmerited, and unbought, but that it may touch our hearts and win us to an affectionate obedience; the belief that Jesus, Christ was sent by the Father to save us, by affording


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