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Vol. V.-No. I.
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY, 1828.
ON THE STATE OF THE QUESTION BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX
AND LIBERAL PARTIES IN THIS COUNTRY.
There is nothing more worthy of notice, than the unquestionable fact, that while the Calvinistic body of this country is making the most violent assaults on Liberal opinions, they are silently, but surely advancing towards the very opinions they so eagerly condemn. One would think that some secret consciousness of this sort, lent fervor and agitation to their zeal, and prompted them as far as possible to magnify the points of difference. We certainly are not of those who think lightly of this difference. Yet, in giving a slight review, in the commencing number of the year, of the state of the question between the parties, we shall advert to the points of agreement as well as to those of difference. We do not propose in this article to review that progress of opinion to which we have adverted,- for that would exceed the limits we have assigned to ourselves—but to give our readers simply and in few words the present state of the case.
Let us further observe that while using the terms Orthodox and Liberal, we do not make ourselves responsible for the intrinsic propriety of either of them. If Orthodox means correct and right, we cannot, of course, concede the advantage of this title to our opponents. If Liberal means enlightened and generous in sentiment, it were arrogant to appropriate this title to ourselves. VOL. V.-NO. I.
We consider both of these words, therefore, as mere appellations that are in current use to designate two great religious parties in this country.
No one can pass through the country even on a journey, without hearing the belief of these two classes constantly discussed. And the question is continually asked, Wherein do they differ? It is a question, therefore, we may suppose, on which information is wanted. But the amount of the difference, also, is a subject of continual dispute. It would seem, therefore, that it is not well settled. This circumstance, then, together with the want of information, will justify us in giving it some attention. It is important, moreover, that we keep our eye on these differences—so far at least as to understand them, because, in the eagerness of controversy, there is a continual tendency on both sides to push the faith of the other to the verge of extravagance. Now as it would be an evil to the Calvinist to have more laid on him by his opponent than he is inclined to believe, so would it be an injury to the Unitarian to admit for one moment, as true, many things that are imputed to him.
The subject of these differences needs to be considered for another reason. It not only involves considerable difficulty,—the necessary discriminations, that is to say, not only involve considerable difficulty, through the insensible changes of opinion, and the liability to misrepresentation on both sides, but the manner in which the differences themselves are spoken of on our part, has been made a topic of severe reprehension. It is alleged that we keep these differences out of sight, or that we represent them as very small and immaterial, and thus equally mislead the community; and yet, on the other hand, we are accused of the inconsistency of magnifying the matters in dispute and making them greater than they are.
These charges demand some attention, and we trust we shall be borne with while we offer some remarks on the subject to which they relate. We are as reluctant to speak of anything connected with the sore and bitter irritations of these times as any one can be to read. We would to God, that good and sober men could be suffered to pursue their course more quietly. Our very
souls are pained and sick of every day's story, and every body's strise. May the time come, yet we dare not pray for its speedy coming, when humble and modest men of whatever name, may go to their graves in peace.
Yet it is from the natural reluctance which many of us feel to speak of controversy, that we are charged with covering up the differences, or reducing them to matters of small account.
Let us then task ourselves to say something of these things. Let us also reply to the charge of inconsistency.
It will be seen, as we pursue the subject of these differences, , that the two methods which we have of speaking about them, are perfectly consistent; that the diversity arises from the different relations in which we view the matters in dispute ; that when we speak differently, we are in fact speaking of different things. When we say the disparity is small and immaterial, we mean that it is so, as far as fundamental truths are concerned; we mean that both systems admit truths enough to save the soul. The difference, therefore, in this view of it, is not, in our judgment, material. But on the other hand, we do believe that the truth is much better for a man, than what we deem to be error; that it is much better fitted to make him pious, peaceful, and happy. We cannot be indifferent about what our fellow men think of God and religion, the most momentous of all subjects, and must be allowed to have a conscientious desire for the spread and maintenance of what we believe to be the truth, as well as others, of what they believe to be the truth.
We will now proceed to state what we conceive to be the amount of the difference between us and our Trinitarian and Calvinistic brethren. The proper plan for doing this will require us also to state wherein we agree. We shall combine both these statements, while we pass in brief review several leading articles of the christian faith.
I. We both believe, then, in one God of infinite perfection. And with all our hearts do we join with the Trinitarian, and with every man of every creed, in saying that this God, the Sovereign and Father of the universe, is worthy of unspeakable love, of unfeigned obedience, of unlimited trust and submission, and of the most joyful and overflowing gratitude. Who shall impeach us on this point ? We know, alas! that we do not love him as we ought; but we do know nevertheless that we inculcate the love of him, and that we regard this love of God as the first, highest, and most blessed of all our affections. Without this, a rational nature would lose its charm, and glory, and hope. We believe, then, in the divine perfection; we believe in infinite perfection. Do any believe more ?
Yet there are differences, it scarcely needs to be said, with regard to the Supreme Being. But the declared and professed difference, let it be observed, does not relate to the moral perfection of God, but to the mode of his existence. It is not whether he is great and wise and holy and good, but whether he exists in this or that manner. We are not, of course, going now into the argument concerning the trinity. We are firmly persuaded that the scriptures teach no such doctrine. But even if we thought that they did, and another could not see the evidence that satisfied us, we could not deem a point concerning the metaphysical and mysterious nature of God, a inaterial or a dividing point. But here our concessions must stop. The point is not material, perhaps; but it is important. The worship of one God in three persons, to a reflecting mind, involves much that is trying and distressing. Many, with Dr Watts, have confessed this. The rash judgment may see no difficulty, but not so the thoughtful mind. For after all its attempts to use words that may escape the charge of selfcontradiction, such a mind will still find itself actually worshipping the three persons, as if they were different beings. So far therefore as the trinity, as a doctrine, is carried out into the actual thoughts, so far as it is divested of those folds of technical theology, in which it is wrapped up, it robs,—that is, in our own apprehension it robs our minds, it robs creation, it robs the bible, of the single and sublime unity of God. We do not say that Trinitarians go to this length, but we believe it is because they do not go where their creed would lead them.
But we have not yet said all we wish on this first and great article of belief. We have said that both parties believe in a God of infinite perfection. And this, in the general, is true. And yet we are compelled to say, that, in our apprehension, the prevailing theology of this country has had the effect to lower the sense of God's perfection, and to draw the hearts of men from him. In particular, the doctrine of native depravity, connected with the doctrine of eternal punishment, has had this effect. The prevailing belief is, that God has brought his creatures into the world with a nature totally depraved. It is conceded too, that with this native propensity are connected the most powerful temptations to evil. And yet he who has advanced but one step in the moral course, and has taken, as he certainly would by the supposition, the wrong step, would, according to the popular creed, justly be subjected, in consequence, to endless suffering. On that step, taken in thoughtless childhood or youth, if the subject should then die, wait the horrors and agonies of eternal death. The first moral, the first erring thought of the simple child may entail upon it all the woes and blasphemies of the damned. Now who, we ask, what father, though he were ever so bad, would be willing to be thought capable of acting on such a principle ? And yet, from a large proportion of the pulpits in this country, doctrines are constantly preached ascribing to the Father of Mercy, a treatment of his creatures, which, we verily believe, would be injurious and unjust to any parent whom the preacher addresses. We confess that we look upon this as a most serious and affecting matter. We are anxious that a set of doctrines should prevail which will not drive men from their Creator, nor drive them to him, but which will gently draw them, as men are fitted to be drawn, to infinitè goodness and love.
II. We may next mention the views that are entertained of Jesus Christ. Both of the classes before named receive him as a Saviour. To a certain extent they have the same views of his saving power. They believe that he saves by his instructions, precepts, and warnings; by his example, and by his sufferings.
The point on which they principally differ in regard to these means, is the kind of influence which his death was designed to exert. The Unitarian believes that it is great; great as an example of patient suffering ; great as a prelude to his resurrection, and thus a confirmation of his claims, and of our hopes of a future life; great as a pledge of God's mercy, of his readiness to forgive. The Trinitarian holds that it was the death of a being, who, in one portion of his nature, was God; that it removed an otherwise insuperable obstacle to God's forgiveness; that it was necessary in the infinite plan of God's government.
Now we have no particular objection to receiving these views, only that we think they are unscriptural, and exceedingly rash and presumptuous. That is to say, we have none of that objection from personal feeling which we are supposed to have. We have no unwillingness to be just as dependent on Christ for salvation as God would have us to be. We revere his sacred mission. We reverence his miraculous power. We venerate his perfect, his transcendent character. We receive his aid, his guidance, and his promises with gladness. We are grieved by the charge, so freely brought against us, of indifference and treachery to this heavenly Master, and we must be allowed solemnly and earnestly to protest against it. We cannot indeed assign to him the same place that is done by the popular theology, but it is because we believe that no such place is assigned to him in the bible.
III. The third subject of comparison which we shall introduce is that of a future state. We both believe in an immortality of happiness for the good. We both believe in a fearful punishment for the wicked. On this last point, however, we speak with less confidence and strength of expression, than others, whether Universalists or Calvinists. We find a striking, and we might say, an awful ambiguity in the scriptural representations of future misery. Sometimes it is represented as continued suffering; at others, as a destruction, a perdition, a loss of the soul-in other