[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

The days of torture, fire, and the sword, have, happily, almost entirely passed away. He who changes his religious opinions has not now, in Protestant countries at least, to fear the strong arm of ecclesiastical power, nor the civil law; no Inquisition holds over our heads its rod of terror; no dungeons open to receive us; no “Form of Concord” is imposed upon us; no “Act of uniformity” binds us to submit to certain rites and ceremonies. But is there not a kind of persecution still enacted, which, though less extreme and violent, is quite as onerous, and no less difficult to bear?

The days of proscription, slander, insult, and neglect, have by no means passed away. Cold greetings, averted looks, long and intimate friendships sundered in a moment, tell a mournful tale in respect to the toleration really exercised, in this country, so proud of its civil and religious liberty, towards those who have conscientiously changed their opinions. Nor are these the only methods by which the spirit of unyielding intolerance is developed. Injurious suspicions; direct charges which would almost break the heart of the sufferer, did he not feel himself above their reach; the imputation of any and every motive but the real one; all these must be experienced and endured by the one who feels it his duty to leave the ranks of the popular or orthodox theology, commonly so called, and candidly avow his honest opinions.

Many people do not seem to imagine, that one can honestly depart from the faith in which he has been educated. Independent thought in matters of religion seems to be regarded as an arrogant assumption, and to excite general indignation and surprise. It is evidently thought to be an innovation on the established order of things. It is a phenomenon for which people are not prepared. And when I look around me, and observe how the great majority of mankind are blindly following the lead of others, how few there are who think for themselves, how few are willing to test their religious opinions by comparing them with other systems of faith, by bringing them all to “the law and the testimony” of God’s inspired word, clinging firmly to truth, following it wherever it might lead, and boldly rejecting error,—when these things meet my view, though I may be distressed at the exhibition of intolerance, I ought not, perhaps, to be surprised at the spirit which is manifested.

That I have ample ground for these remarks, will probably become sufficiently evident from the ensuing pages of this work. I have received letters from various quarters, since my change of opinions became known, some of the sentiments of which have amazed and appalled me. As I have been charged with indecent haste in making a change so fraught with momentous consequences, I wish to show, by other evidence than my own, that my change has not been so sudden as it has seemed to those who had no intimate knowledge of the workings of my mind. As my motives have been unkindly assailed, I wish to show that I have not been actuated by mere caprice, but that I have reasons for my present opinions, which, at least, satisfy me. So much has this community interested itself in my affairs,—so much has been said for which there was no foundation,—so much ignorance has been evinced in regard to my present opinions, and the religious belief of that body of Christians with whom I now sympathize,—that I feel it due to myself and to them, to remove, if possible, some of the erroneous impressions of those whose injurious remarks are the result of ignorance and prejudice, and not of malice.

To some of the numerous communications I have recently received, I propose to reply in the following pages. It was impossible for me to answer individually all the letters I received; and, even if I could have done so, there are many other persons who were saying, substantially, the very same things, and who could not have been reached by mere individual replies to my various letters. The extracts I shall make from these communications will, I think, abundantly prove that I have been, in a manner, compelled to speak in my own defence, and in defence of those who, through me, and in consequence of my present position, have been extensively and unjustly assailed. And may I not hope, that I may be instrumental in doing something to promote the interests of liberal and enlightened Christianity, or, at least, to soften the rigor of that judgment which has been so freely passed upon a conscientious and respectable body of Christians?

At this age of the world, a rational religion is certainly needed to counteract the prevalence of infidelity; and nothing but a rational religion will do this. Those in high places may sound the alarm, if they please, and tell us, that it is dangerous to use our reason in matters of religion, but it will be all in vain. We are not living in the dark ages; the majority of men in the present day will have a reasonable religion, or they will have none. It will not always do to bind the consciences of men to creeds formed in the ages of darkness and superstition. As the world continues to emerge, gradually, it may be, from the midnight gloom in which it was enveloped before the Reformation, the work of reform will be more and more complete. This is the natural course of things. The morning sun slowly dispels the darkness of the night, and shines brighter and brighter unto the noon-day, although it may not always shine uninterruptedly. Sometimes a cloud arises, and obscures for a while its radiance; but when the cloud disperses, we find that the god of day has been silently, but surely, advancing in his course. So it is with the glorious work of reformation and moral renovation. It is not half accomplished yet. Sometimes the work advances rapidly; sometimes, for a season, it seems to be retrograding; but it is cheering to perceive, that, on the whole, its march is onward. I observe, with pleasure, that many irrational and unscriptural tenets, formerly so popular, are now only nominally held. When their advocates are pressed upon the subject, they explain them away, so as to make them mean just nothing at all; and thus they virtually abandon them. And I also rejoice to perceive, that liberal elements are slowly, but surely, spreading themselves among the great body of the people. Let us thank God, and take courage, while we pray that the truth, as it is in Jesus, may prosper and prevail until all the inhabitants of the earth shall be brought under its blessed influence and control.

I will here take occasion to remark, that it will be impossible to observe any great degree of order in my arrangement of the topics, as the same general subjects have been touched upon, in the different letters addressed to me, in a variety of different aspects. I could not, in reply to them, bring together all the remarks relating to one subject, without creating some degree of confusion. There will therefore, perhaps, be a little repetition of topics in different letters; but I hope, on so important a subject, that a little repetition will be pardoned. There is no limit to the frequency with which the same objections are advanced, after they have been answered over and over again.

It will be observed, that all the ensuing letters, with the exception of those to my parents, and one to a particular friend, are addressed as if to one individual; though, in reality, this is not the case. I have pursued this plan, for the sake of friendly concealment and convenience. The letters of my revered father contain no such sweeping assertions and denunciations, as will be noticed in some of the extracts from other letters. Though he has felt the trial as deeply as any other individual, his method with me has been that of calm investigation and argument, and therefore I have no desire to conceal the authorship of those things which he has written. He has approached the subject with that honest candor for which he is remarkable, and for which I honor and revere him.

I bespeak for the following pages a kind and candid consideration; and may the Holy Spirit of God lead into all truth, both writer and readers.

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

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