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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


You are right in the supposition that what you are pleased to denominate one “form of Anti-Christ”—meaning Unitarianism—suits better the “peculiar constitution” of my mind, than “that other form” you call “Popery.” I do love Unitarianism for the liberty it gives to every man to form his own opinions from the Bible, and, when he has formed, to express them. Nothing so little suits the “constitution” of an active mind as any kind or degree of mental thraldom. Nothing is so apt to weaken, to disease, to break down any constitution, physical or mental, as close and protracted confinement. There is no mental progress where there is mental slavery; and the active mind loves progress. It must be free, it must be at work, it must advance, or it will chafe and fret, and prey upon itself, as the newly imprisoned bird sometimes struggles till it dies.

The mind, too, which thinks for itself, is the only mind which understands and feels its own responsibility to God. And where this responsibility is felt, care will be taken to avail itself of every assistance within its reach for the formation of correct opinions. The habit of assenting to the dictation of others in matter of religion is very much calculated to deaden our sense of responsibility, and to produce listlessness and inattention as to what we really do believe. I speak from my own knowledge, when I affirm it to be very generally the case in our orthodox churches, that the mass of private members are exceedingly ignorant of the speculative and peculiar points of their faith. This is the natural consequence of multiplying minor and unnecessary articles of belief. The few great fundamental articles of religion, such as all Christians can draw from their Bibles, the majority understand and appreciate, and, in general, can boldly and successfully advocate; but of the peculiar points of difference between the various sects of Christendom they are woefully ignorant.

In some respects this circumstance is not without its advantages. The practical, and what I would call fundamental doctrines of their religion exert their salutary influence upon their characters, while those speculative and metaphysical points, a belief in which we consider injurious to the character, lie comparatively inert and harmless. But, on the other hand, what we consider error is perpetuated from generation to generation, because its unsightly features are so generally hidden beneath a veil of ignorance, or altogether lost sight of through inattention and apathy. In former days, when I have had the doctrines of Calvinism pressed home upon me, I have insisted that such were not, and could not be, the doctrines of my church. But an attentive study of the writing of Calvin himself have taught me otherwise.

If I have known what I was doing—if I had realized to what I was binding myself when I united with a branch of Christ’s church holding the Calvinistic creed, I could never have done it. I do not say these things by way of apology for myself; I only mention them as facts—as not uncommon facts. I knew the Assembly’s Catechism by heart at a very early age; it was faithfully taught me, with all its notes and references; but I was too young, light-hearted, and thoughtless, to receive from it any very definite ideas; and the words which were engraved upon my memory were mere sounds, conveying, to my mind, very little sense. It is now my business and my aim to forget them, thought they often haunt me like phantoms of the past.

It was impossible that I could then understand, and fully receive, what has puzzled, and will ever continue to puzzle, older and wiser heads than mine. But I sincerely hope and trust that the unfortunate peculiarities of the system will, after a time, become entirely obsolete. May the period soon arrive! It will be a joyful day for Christendom, and I devoutly believe it will occasion joy in Heaven. But, my dear Sir, I have unconsciously broken the connection of my thoughts by giving way to a bright anticipation, and I will now resume my subject.

Once indoctrinated, and received within the pale of the church, the practical, useful part of my religion especially occupied my attention, and a blessed source of comfort and support I have found it, and do still find it; and especially, now that it is stripped of its incumbrances, and I hold a rational, beautiful, and simple faith, it is far more dear to me than ever.

When my mind began to act for itself, I often felt perplexed about some of the doctrines of Calvinism. My friends can bear me witness, how, especially, the Calvinistic ideas of election and reprobation distressed and puzzled me at various periods of my life. The speculative portions of my faith were essentially opposed to my tastes and feelings; in a word—for you have supplied me with the exact idea—to the “constitution” of my mind. A want of harmony between my creed, and what, I am sure, were the best feelings of my heart, has always been a source of undefined uneasiness; so that, in order to enjoy my religion, which, from the pressure of exceedingly severe domestic afflictions, was necessary for me, I clung to the harmonious, practical, and true, and managed to keep out of sight those doctrines in which I could never fully acquiesce. The hearing of doctrinal, metaphysical sermons invariably created an indescribable uneasiness, jarred the sensitive framework of my mind, confused my intellect, and put all my feelings out of tune. And all this was not the less trying, because I never knew certainly what troubled me, or what had created the discord within. On the contrary, practical sermons, or those recognizing mainly the universally acknowledged, the fundamental doctrines of our holy religion, have ever been my solace and delight.

My life has thus been one of inward conflict. I have spent my years in struggling to believe what was revolting to my common sense, but what my creed, when at length I did comprehend it, plainly told me I must believe, or be lost forever. I say my creed told me this; for that the majority of Calvinists practically hold such a shocking, exclusive faith—a faith which shuts out from Heaven all except themselves—I do not, will not, cannot believe.

Thus it will be seen that I have not suddenly arrived at the spot where I now stand. My friends have often been startled at what they deemed my temerity, when I would occasionally venture to express my suspicions that such and such doctrines might be erroneous. You yourself tell me that you confess you are not surprised at my change. You thought me some time ago “too prone to embark upon a sea for which,” you assert, I “was not ballasted;” and you also remark, “that you saw my leaning, when you discovered my tendency to Arminianism.” I remind you, my dear Sir, of all these circumstances, to shield myself from the charge of haste in changing my opinions, which has been so often, so industriously laid at my door; aye, and so harshly too.

Now the doctrine that, in consequence of the sin of another, man is brought into the world with a nature so totally depraved that he cannot possibly do anything that is right, his understanding so darkened that he cannot discern the plainest truths in the Bible, and yet that he is held responsible for the commission of sin—threatened with the pains of Hell unless he does what he has no power to do, and understands what he has no ability to understand—is a doctrine which never seemed to me quite right. Not more right did the doctrine seem that one portion of the human race were elected to eternal misery, and the other portion to eternal happiness by a special, unconditional decree of God; and it also seemed strange to me that all mankind were exhorted to repent and be saved by the atonement of Christ, when that atonement was made only for a very small number. These and their kindred doctrines it has often seemed to me, in years gone by, could only be received by dethroning reason and common sense; and I have not been surprised to notice the curl upon the lip of the scorner, when these and similar doctrines have been held prominently forth from some of the pulpits of our land.

No, I repeat it, I have not suddenly arrived at my present position. Many years of dissatisfaction prepared the way for the change which has appeared to electrify my relatives and friends. Your superior discernment probably saved you from experiencing a similar shock. The powerful impressions of childhood, the strong cords of education and early association which held the system together, have not, I can assure both you and them, been sundered in a moment. One knot after another has been untied. I have felt the framework loosening, and trembling, and parting joint after joint, till, at length, it has fallen asunder. The fall seems, to others, sudden and woeful. This is because the struggle through which I have for years been passing, could be known only to myself. Indeed, it can scarcely be said to have been known to myself; at any rate, I did not certainly know to what the conflict was tending.

It has been severe and disheartening. My best and brightest days have been sacrificed to what I now deem an erroneous creed; yet I scarcely know whether to regret that this has been the case. In one view of the subject, I can thank God for it all. It makes me charitable and forgiving towards those who hold this dreadful faith; who are not willing to grant me the name of Christian; who rank me with the adherents of “Anti-Christ,” thought I still regard Christ as my spiritual head, my master, and my Lord, and still recognize, with all my heart, his divine authority. It makes my present foundation like the solid rock, my present views definite and strong, my hopes firm and bright, my joys calm and enduring, my sufferings useful; and it makes me prize unspeakably that liberty wherewith Christ has made me free.

[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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