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with what feelings they ought to regard a system, the tendency of which is to set aside and deny the principles of the Reformation? If any sect could present the shadow of an excuse for persisting in exclusive measures, it would be, beyond all question, the Church of Rome; because, while the pretension on their part is quite as well founded in all other respects, it certainly has the advantage of priority and consistency over that of any other denomination of Christians. They were the first to adopt this policy; and to make it consistent, they at the same time pretended, not only that their church was the only true church, but that God had guaranteed infallibility to its decisions on all points touching what is necessary to be believed. The Exclusive System, therefore, is consistent with the principles openly maintained by this church; but it is wholly subversive, as I conceive, of the principles of true Frotestantism. These principles are, the sufficiency of the scriptures and the right of private judgment, leaving to every Christian the liberty of interpreting the bible for himself. But in this liberty to interpret the bible for himself is included the liberty of coming to his own conclusions as to its true import. It is idle, it is absurd, to talk about a man's right to interpret the bible for himself without a forfeiture of the christian name and privileges, and yet not allow him to come to his own conclusions as to its true import, without subjecting himself to this penalty. How little, comparatively, has been gained by reformation in religion, up to this hour, if we have merely secured ourselves against oppression by the civil arm in matters of conscience? And, besides, this has not been gained so much by a
reformation in religion, as in civil government. If we are tired of Protestantism, let us give it up, and go back again to the bosom of the venerable mother of the churches; and not think, in the true spirit of slaves, to cheat ourselves with the name of liberty, after having surrendered all its privileges. At any rate, let us go back to her principles, so that though we may not be consistent with reason, or justice, or scripture, we may at least bé consistent with ourselves.
I speak to the people of New England, and I ask them to consider the countless evils, which the Exclusive System has inflicted, and is still inflicting, on society. Here I shall not remind you of the wars it has kindled, of the kingdoms it has rent, of the massacres it has instigated and countenanced, and of racks, and fagots, and dungeons; for the day has gone by for the repetition of such outrages. Your attention ought rather to be directed to the thousand ways, by which, in the present state of things, this system may be made to disturb the peace and happiness of the community. Just so far as it prevails, it puts power into the hands of ambitious and designing men to foment disputes and divisions of the most malignant character. They can creep into your families, and sow discord there. They can enter into a village, where all is harmony and good neighbourhood, and in the course of a few days raise there a spirit of censoriousness and evil judging, produce estrangement among old friends, and create miserable feuds, which it will take years on years to allay. Perhaps nothing has done so much for the order, virtue, and religion of New England, as her parochial establishments, and the regular and independent manner in
which religious institutions have been supported and observed. But let this system prevail, and it puts power into the hands of men of very ordinary abilities, to disturb, if not to break up, almost every parish in the country. The consequence will be, that many of these parishes will be torn and divided, and as neither party will be able to meet the expense of maintaining regular worship, it will be given up in part, or altogether, or they will be obliged to depend on begging for a precarious and humiliating resource. Worse than all, it is the tendency of this system, and I believe I may say its design and object, to connect religion with politics, and make a man's political elevation to depend, not on his abilities, fidelity, and public services, but on his belonging to a particular party in the church, or on his willingness to prostitute his official influence in promoting the views of this party. May God Almighty shield this land from the train of evils that would follow the success of such a combination!
We e may be told, however, that these are only incidental evils, and much more than counterbalanced by the good influences of the system. But I ask that one of these good influences may be named. Has it aided the progress of truth? No. It has much oftener been employed to prop up the tottering throne of error; and even when it has been directed against error, error has arisen, and made itself strong, under the protection of the generous sympathies of men against such unrighteous measures to put it down. Has it promoted in any way the best interests of humanity? No. The Father of our spirits has made us much more capable of judging what is good, than what is true. What excuse, then,
can they have to offer, who, in a blind devotion to their own uncertain prejudices, have sought to propagate them, though on the ruins of everything that can make society peaceful, prosperous, and happy? Has it made men more virtuous? No. It has roused and inflamed, on both sides, passions that scorn the restraints of conscience, and men have sought to carry their objects in religion by means that would have disgraced a scramble for office in times of high political excitement. Has it increased men's regard for the Saviour? No. They have pretended to be contending for his honor, but they have forgotten what he said, 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.' And our piety to God, has that been heightened by a system which tramples on the meek and mild principles of our nature, and gives ample field to its fierce and bad passions? No. What then has this system done? Evil, unexampled evil, nothing but evil. Oh! how different from him whose whole life was love! Oh! how_different from that religion, which is 'first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy!' When will men learn that the highest reverence they can pay to the truth, is to obey it themselves, and the best way in which they can illustrate it and recommend it to others, is by an example that all must admire for its loveliness and consistency?
Once more, then, let me conjure the serious, enlightened and well disposed to make up their minds on the merits of a controversy, in which, as I have said, almost every other is likely sooner or later to be merged. Is
it for man to judge and act as if he were infallible, especially in regard to those dark and abstruse questions in theology, which have occupied and divided the most gifted minds from the beginning? The world, as it has grown older and wiser, has grown more liberal. Would you have us go back, and breathe again the spirit of the dark ages? It is not enough considered, that if the positions which I have taken be tenable, exclusiveness in religion is not an error merely, but a sin, and to be resisted as such, and shunned as such. In our dreams of a perfect man we always make him strict and inexorable toward himself, candid and tolerant toward others. This is Liberal Christianity. The charity which the gospel enjoins 'beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.' 'And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing,'