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TO TRINITARIANS AND CALVINISTS.
The Letters of the Rev. Dr. Woods to Unitarians, which have now been for some time before the public, suggest to me the propriety of addressing the few following pages on the same subjects, to Trinitarians and Calvinists. I feel the greater readiness to do it, and enter upon the task the more cheerfully, as the discussion of the interesting subjects, about which they are concerned, seems to be taking a character of moderation, temperance, and urbanity, which promises a favourable result. It assures us, that the great end, which, on each side, we propose to ourselves, will not be lost sight of in the ardour of debate, and the desire to maintain subordinate opinions, in which we differ from each other; and that we are not going to sacrifice the spirit of religion to any of its forms, or its dogmas.
I am far from thinking religious controversy to be universally an evil. It becomes so, only when it is improperly conducted. It is bad, and produces bad effects, only when the discussion of interesting questions of faith or duty is carried on with an intemperate spirit, or with sophistry; and when the disputants, ranged on each side, manifest more of a spirit of party, than of the love of truth. So far indeed is the public discussion of those questions, about which Christians hold different opinions, from being a thing, that should be discouraged as hurtful; that we ought rather to rejoice in it, as an evidence of a prevailing interest in the subject of religion in general, as a symptom of religious life in the community, and as a means of preserving that life, of awakening a deeper interest, of turning the public attention still more to the subject, and thus furnishing opportunities for impressing upon the minds of men a sense, which they might otherwise not have, of its high value and importance. These desirable effects it may produce in a considerable degree, however imperfectly and defectively the controversy may be conducted, and although great faults of manner, and even of temper, may mingle themselves in the debate. But if there be a reasonable degree of exemption from bad passions, party views, the arts of controversy, and offensive personality; the effect of bringing the subject into view, in the various lights in which it may be presented, can hardly fail to be highly favourable to the cause of Christian truth.
The book, which has given occasion to the present pamphlet, and upon which some remarks will be made in the course of the discussions which follow, is entitled to more than common attention on several accounts. The subjects of which it treats are in themselves highly important; and being those, about which the Christian community is at the present time much divided, they have excited a peculiar interest of late by being brought more frequently than common before the public mind. It comes from a gentleman of acknowledged talents and learning, and of high standing among his brethren as a scholar and a theologian. It professes to speak with authority, as it speaks in the name of that part of the Christian community, for whom it claims the very honourable distinction of " the Orthodox of New England,” and is designed to explain and defend the opinions, by which they are distinguished, for the purpose of guarding them against misapprehension, and in order to do away the effects of misrepresentation.
The writer of the following sheets hopes to perform the duty he has assigned himself, whatever may be its defects in other respects, in a spirit, which shall not be liable to exception. It is his design to make such remarks, as occur to him, on the opinions and reasonings of the pamphlet before him, and to give a free exposition of his own views upon the several subjects treated of by Dr. Woods, together with the reasoning by which he has been led into those views. But he wishes it to be understood, that they are his own views only. He is not authorized, nor does he profess, to speak in the name of any party or body of Christians. How far his opinions on the subjects in controversy, and his manner of explaining and defending them, may agree with those of his friends, he knows not. He is willing to avail himself of this opportunity of appearing before the public on these subjects, believing that the cause of christian truth cannot fail of being promoted by unreserved freedom in the discussion of controverted doctrines; and by individuals communicating the result of their study and thought, without any reference to the opinions of the party or sect, to which they may be considered in general as belonging. With
respect to the points at issue between those, who are called Unitarians on the one hand, and Trinitarians and Calvinists on the other, it is of some importance that you should know in what light they are viewed, and what degree of importance is attached to them by Unitarians. Upon this subject, there is probably with us, as with you, some diversity of opinion; though I am persuaded that no intelligent Unitarian can think them unimportant, and practically a matter of indifference. It cannot be imagined, that the constitution of things is such, as to render truth and error on any subject perfectly indifferent, and equally salutary. And it is believed, as I shall have occasion to show in the sequel, that the doctrines for which we contend, and which are the subject of controversy between us, are calculated, as far as their effects are not prevented, nor counteracted by other causes, to have a better moral influence in forming the character, than the opposite doctrines ; and that their reception and prevalence cannot fail to have great influence on the reception and spread of christianity in the world. At the same time, it is not maintained, that any one of the doctrines, about which we differ, is fundamental in
such a sense, that the opposite is incompatible with the Christian character, and forfeits the Christian name for him who maintains it. It is not doubted that all the best influences of Christian faith may be felt, and the Christian life acted out, and the consolations and hopes of the Gospel enjoyed by those, whose speculative opinions upon each of the several points of controversy, which lie between us, are in opposition to each other.
I shall confine myself to a few passing remarks on what is contained in some of the first letters of Dr. Woods, wishing to draw your attention chiefly to the important articles of doctrine, which are discussed in the remaining ones; since, with the exception of the doctrine of the divine Unity, they involve the most interesting questions, that lie between us and you.
With respect to what is implied in no equivocal manner in the beginning of the second letter, I would only observe, that as to the propriety of having a creed, no doubt, I believe, has ever been entertained. Unitarians have always claimed the right of every individual to have his own particular creed. What they have sometimes had occasion to object to is, not that each of the several sects and denominations of Christians should have its own creed, nor, that any individual should have one; but that any, whether an