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THIS tract contains the greater part of a sermon delivered at the dedication of the Twelfth Congregational Church in Boston, Oct. 13, 1824. The Exec. Comm. of the AMER. UNIT. Assoc., in incorporating it with their series, regret only that some of the remarks under the fourth head of the first part may seem less appropriate now than when they were written; they have not however thought it proper to alter them.






I AM to ask attention to some particulars, in which I conceive that encouraging anticipations concerning what we account uncorrupt Christianity are authorized by the signs of the times.'

I. We perceive favorable indications in the CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR SOCIAL CONDITION. When the inquiry is presented to us, why just views of our religion have as yet made such partial progress, we find ourselves compelled to answer, that it has been in no small part owing to the legal persecutions against which they have. had to struggle. In that long disastrous period, which preceded the great religious revolution in the sixteenth century, it is well known how dissent in the most minute particulars was punished. In the very dawn of the reformation, views of our religion to a greater extent just, than one would suppose could possibly have been reached so soon and under circumstances so unpropitious, revealed themselves in various and disconnected quarters. But it was before long ascertained by bitter experience, that the right of private judgment, in the

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proper extent of that principle, was by no means established, when the rulers of Protestant communities had vindicated it in arms for themselves. Toleration, or indulgence, appeared to be the most that the age was ripe for allowing to heretics, that is, to the weaker party in a state; and even the limits of its toleration were extremely narrow. At the height of the contest, which Calvin was professedly carrying on for liberty of conscience, a brother reformer, for exercising his own, suffered martyrdom at his instance, under the most melancholy aggravations. When, warned by this event. and others of a like character, the more consistent Protestants from the various states of Europe had fled to Poland, then the freest country of that continent, — the flourishing community, which they established there, was assailed and at length subverted by a series of the most cruel oppressions. In Holland, severities of a similar kind arrested the reformation at its incipient. stage. In our own parent country, within fifteen years after the first translation of the Bible, an ecclesiastic records, that "Arianism now showed itself so openly, and was in such danger of spreading farther, that it was thought necessary to suppress it by more rugged methods than seemed agreeable to the merciful principles of the gospel." From that period to the period of the revolution, capital executions for this offence were not few; and, when it ceased to be a felony in that kingdom, it was made punishable with incapacities amounting to outlawry, by a statute which was only repealed within. the last eighteen years. No one, I trust, will suppose

* Strype, in his life of Archbishop Cranmer.

that these statements are made on account of the sentiment of strong disapprobation, which they excite; but, with the facts before us, that views of Christianity, like those which we maintain, have shown a strong tendency to reveal and diffuse themselves, and that the opposition which has arrested their progress has been, not that of argument, but of violence, we cannot but hope for them a better fate in an age of greatly improved legislation, and especially in a country, whose free institutions place them, as far as institutions of government can do it, on the ground of an equal competition.

But penal laws are by no means the only political provisions for dooming religious knowledge to a perpetual infancy. No contemptible influence is exerted by a religious establishment, with its civil prerogatives, its magnificent endowments, and ample patronage. Nor may it be said that these can only operate on vain and mercenary minds. It is hard to determine how effectual may be a bias, which imperceptibly inclines an honest mind to prefer the worse to the better reason. An establishment invests itself with associations of permanence, respectability, and national honor, which have a peculiar attraction for men of character. Nay, a religious faith which has been long professed, even without any secular advantages, must needs be tainted with some extreme infirmity, if it have not wrought itself deep into the texture of society, and the retirements of just and generous feeling. Literature and manners must unavoidably have taken a tone from it. Opinions of every sort have become formed to it, so as to make it appear that a degree of incongruity would be produced by its abandonment. All the kindling associations of



antiquity, which thoughtful men cherish, range themselves by its side to forbid a rude inquisition into its character. By it their fathers lived and died. The institutions, under which they have prospered, remind them, that it was in the stimulus furnished by this faith that they were established and have been maintained; and every monument of ancient worth, every scene of former heroic action or endurance, pleads for it with no feeble urgency. It is not to be doubted that minds, independent and inquisitive on other subjects, have been betrayed into acquiescence and inactivity concerning this, by influences of the kind of which we speak; and therefore we conceive our social institutions to be propitious to the cause of impartial inquiry and Christian truth, not only in their free character, but in their recent date. With us, everything is too new for error to have had time thus to intrench itself; besides that the sentiment, which we associate the most strongly with all that we can call antiquity among us, is an independence and dread of human assumptions over the conscience.

II. We place no small reliance on the improved HABITS OF THINKING which prevail. We observe that opinions, which we reject, have been recommended by a weight of authority, which has heretofore been able to afford them very efficient support. A subjection of its judgments to authority indicates a sensitive debility of the mind; a condition of it, in which it has been either enervated and deprived of self reliance by fear, or has surrendered itself to the power of imagination and sentiment. The natural consummation of implicit self surrender to a traditional belief is witnessed in the mental dwarfishness of those Eastern nations, whose intellect

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