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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]



Degrading views of our nature are certainly debasing to the mind. It is a natural law that we are apt to assimilate most thoroughly with those things which we contemplate most frequently. The contemplation of virtue is calculated to inspire the love of virtue, and to prompt to virtuous deeds; while he, who, even speculatively, become familiar with vice, is in danger of contamination and practical debasement. I believe no one will deny that this is a fundamental law of the mind; while some even go so far as to apply this law to our physical nature, and assert that the contemplation of the beautiful will produce beauty.

Taking, however, for granted, the existence of this mental law, I remark, that he who is constantly on the watch for evidences of human depravity, does himself a serious injury. In his anxiety to establish the truth of a theory, he may become, in his own person, its most conspicuous example. His theory may be, in himself, reduced to practice. But he who gladly hails every trait of God’s image in his brother man—who feels a thrill of joy when he hears of any action of generous self-sacrifice for the good of another—whose pulses throb at the recital of noble deeds; he who most watches for, and most gladly hails such delightful developments of human sympathy in others, is most sure to glow with sympathy himself, and to reflect the image of his benevolent God and Father. Such a person illumines and rejoices all around him.

And how comes it that there is always such a general burst of generous human feeling at the news of any great act of virtue, even if it come to us from the remotest corners of the earth? The first shout of joy and triumph is ever swelling higher and higher, and waxing louder and louder as it rolls onward towards the most distant lands. Through raging oceans, over rugged mountains, the tide of human feeling rolls, a pure and undivided stream, gathering tribute, and swelling as it goes. Thus, the world over, heart meets heart; and virtue receives, sooner or later, a sure reward. But, if men are totally depraved, they would naturally rejoice only in the triumph of vice.

What a pealing anthem of joy resounded through every land when the tidings came that, for conscience’ sake, the ministers and people of the Free Church of Scotland had given up their beloved altars, and gone forth, poor and unsheltered, beneath the broad canopy of Heaven! What meant that universal shout? Of what was it a sign? Why did the heart beat quicker than was its wont, and the tear of emotion suffuse the eye? It was because the motive which impelled those men—let it even have been, as some suppose, a mistaken one—found a glad response in every human breast. It was because they gave up all for conscience’ sake.

In the life of the great and good Fenelon, a circumstance is related which gives an appropriate and capital illustration of the power of goodness to reach and soften the hardest hearts. The circumstance is thus narrated: “The diocese of Cambrai was often the theatre of war, and experienced the cruel ravages of retreating and conquering armies. But an extraordinary respect was paid to Fenelon by the invaders of France. The English, the Germans, and the Dutch, rivalled the inhabitants of Cambrai in their veneration for the Archbishop. All distinctions of religion and sect, all feelings of hatred and jealousy that divided the nations, seemed to disappear in the presence of Fenelon. Military escorts were offered him for his personal security, but these he declined, and traversed the countries desolated by war, to visit his flock, trusting in the protection of God. In these visits, his way was marked by alms and benefactions. While he was among them the people seemed to enjoy peace in the midst of war.”

Here is a beautiful illustration of the sovereign power of goodness. Enemies are made friends; the evil passions engendered and fostered by war are changed into mildness and kind regard. And all this because of the inspiring presence of a good man!

“The virtues of Fenelon,” says his biographer, “give his history the air of romance; but his name will never die. Transports of joy were heard at Cambrai when his ashes were discovered, which, it was thought, had been scattered by the tempest of the revolution; and to this moment the Flemings call him ‘the good Archbishop.’”

After all that I have said, my dear Sir, after plainly stating to you how Calvinism appears to me now, you will not wonder that I dread and fear it. I regard it almost as I would some venomous serpent, from whose fangs I have but narrowly escaped. Too long has it been coiling itself around my struggling spirit. That its poisonous fangs have not reached my vitals, I owe to that wonderful Providence of God which has protected me from harm, and, at length, provided a way of escape. He has given me strength to struggle on, till, at length, I have thrown the monster from me. I bless God for my escape.

You will perhaps think that this is unreasonably strong language; but if you only knew how I have suffered—how my whole life has been clouded over by this gloomy faith—how, even in moments when I have been joyfully welcoming the pure beams of the Sun of Righteousness, its dark cloud has frightened me from afar, its low, muttered tones of thunder have reached my ears, like a sound foreboding evil—you would not think my language too impassioned. Be it so or not, it is just as I feel.

My religion is my all. Without it, what should I be, or what should I do? Without it, how, in my early years, could I have borne the changes and sorrows which have fallen to my lot? I love my religion dearly, for it has been emphatically my friend. Then, if I have been able conscientiously to give up all that was dark and debasing about it, while I keep all that is bright and elevating, how can I be too thankful? How can I speak too strongly? I sometimes wonder why, before I had proved the all-sustaining power of religion in my own experience, I did not give way to skepticism, and become the victim of infidelity. I cannot but remember the shocking doubts which sometimes found their way into my mind; doubts which sometimes made me miserable for weeks together. Rebellious and unworthy thoughts of God, my heavenly Father and Friend; how they used to haunt and torture me! They grew out of my creed. To a person of my “mental constitution,” if I thought about it at all, it could not be otherwise. I could not teach myself to reconcile contradictions. I could not school myself to receive, what always seemed to me absurdities. I never examined them deeply. I tried to believe them, but tried without success; or, at most, it was a strange sort of belief, against my better judgment.

It was an extorted faith. I feared to believe otherwise. And soon the time came, when, under the pressure of deep affliction, religion became absolutely necessary to me. I clung therefore to the practical and truthful, shutting my eyes upon all the rest. I have, indeed, endeavored to indoctrinate myself—to understand what I thought I must believe, and to fill my mind with arguments for that belief; but I never before now thoroughly examined the question, whether those opinions were true. I never myself, and I confess it with sorrow, brought them meekly to the law and to the testimony, to judge, by my own reason, whether they could be found there. I was afraid to doubt. And in regard to the Trinity, I did not doubt till lately.

And I verily thought that Unitarians had scarcely any religion at all. I shrank with fear at the idea of attending one of their Churches on the Sabbath day. It seemed almost immorality to read one of their books. I knew and loved some of them, but I pitied their delusions, and wondered how they could be so blinded. The subject of our religious differences was generally carefully avoided, or I might have discovered that I was doing them sad injustice. I fear my inclination was to say to every Unitarian, “stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou.” I fear I often prayed in my heart the prayer of the Pharisee, saying, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, or even as this poor Unitarian.” This is the legitimate result of Calvinism. I find that all rigid Calvinists are exceedingly exclusive in their creed, if not in their natural feelings.

Ah, my dear Sir, I have endured the tyranny of this faith too long not to dislike it now. I have heard of those who had endured captivity so long, that it had become a second nature to them, and was preferred to liberty. I have heard of the captive, who, when released, sighed for his bonds again. The glorious light of the unclouded sun was painful to his eye; the free air of Heaven seemed to visit his cheek too roughly; the noise and turmoil of the busy world oppressed and distracted him. Poor, pitiable wreck of humanity! Who would wish to be like him? In consequence of suffering, to become so inured to it as actually to prefer it to ease, and to restraint, as to prefer it to liberty! I do not thus love my chains. God made us for freedom—God made us for happiness; and sadly to be pitied is he who does not prize his liberty and happiness. He has lost the image of his God. He is scarcely a man. He is but little better than the brutes that perish.

For my part, I thank God that I am free. I breathe the air of religious liberty, and it revives my soul. I raise my unshackled hands in gratitude to Heaven, and sing aloud for joy. But still I remember the struggle—the conflict between light and darkness—the despairing avowal of a belief which was revolting to my very soul; it was wormwood and gall; my soul hath it in remembrance.

My eyes are now opened to behold the truth, and beauty, and symmetry, of another faith than yours, and not all your declarations and bold assertions can turn what I behold, into what you assert it to be. Show me another scheme of faith, and let me compare it with the Bible, but do not attempt to frighten me by hard names and dark pictures of your own creation. It is easy to dress up a hideous figure, and call it Unitarianism, but those who are choosing for eternity will not be very readily deceived by any such imaginary creation.

[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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