[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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]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 remark that “it is a vain boast of Unitarians that they are free from creeds—the imposition of men.” And you make the following inquiry: “When Unitarians are asked about their faith, do they not give the written opinions of their great men—Dr. Channing, and others? And very various,” you observe, “their faith is.”

I reply, that when Unitarians boast that they have no creeds imposed upon them, they make no “vain boast.” It is a delightful, glorious truth. If you were to ask me what my creed was, I should give it to you in the words of Scripture. Ah, I was wrong. Unitarians have a creed, which they consider binding upon all. It is contained in the Scriptures. But if you were to say, “This does not satisfy me; you and I give a different interpretation to these very words; I wish to know what interpretation Unitarians generally give to those passages.” I might then refer you to the works of their standard writers, and tell you that you would find in them a faithful exhibition of the Unitarian faith. But I would tell you at the same time that no individual considers himself bound to adopt the views of any other individual, even of Dr. Channing; and Dr. Channing himself has always taken care to have it distinctly understood, that he is only giving his individual opinions. Now, referring to certain writers when information is wanted, and being bound by a creed, are very different things. Again, you inquire: “Is it not true, that New England Unitarians, finding skepticism so rife among them, are about to form a creed, which they can show to the world as some fixed representation of their views?” I can only say, in reply, that I have heard of nothing of the kind. It may be the case, however; and where would be the harm? And how would such a proceeding interfere with their great, fundamental principle, that each individual is accountable for his opinions to God alone? Surely, when the religious views of a body of Christians are so shamefully misrepresented and so generally misunderstood, as those of Unitarians are by their Orthodox brethren, it is high time that the world should be enlightened on the subject; it is high time that these misrepresentations should be exposed, and these misunderstandings, if possible, removed. And, as to the assertion that skepticism is “rife among them,” I should like to know where it is not? And is Unitarianism to answer for the faults of its professors? Are Unitarians, as a body, to be held responsible for the speculations of those who call themselves by that name? Then Heaven have mercy upon us all!

But you go on to say: “Should my dear friend be suffered to `believe a lie,’ and embrace fully the doctrines she now avows, I shall be prepared to witness in her downfall and apostacy from the truth, as it is in Jesus, the truth of that fearful declaration, `the last state of that man is worse than the first.’ But I hope otherwise of you, though I thus write. Let me admonish you to be `slow to speak’ on this subject, to weigh well and deliberate long before you embark upon this sea of religious barrenness and unfruitfulness, and before you take the fatal step which will separate you from the real friends of the Saviour.”

And who, my dear Sir, are the real friends of the Saviour? How shall we decide this important question? Did not our Saviour himself teach us how to decide it when he said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you?” The religion of Jesus Christ is a practical religion. When he came to save us—to die for us—he came to show us how we might be saved-to tell us what we should do to be saved. He never told us exactly how we should reason, nor, as the Athanasian creed does, what we should “think;” he laid down a few fundamental facts, and gave a number of plain commands; they are exceedingly comprehensive and simple; they are so plain, thanks be to God, that he who runs may read; but further than this he did not go, nor did his Apostles.

Another correspondent tells me that I have “wounded the Saviour in the house of his friends.” By this I suppose is meant what you have more explicitly expressed in the quotation upon which I have been remarking; namely, that those who belong to the church or “house” from which I have separated myself, are his friends; and that the church or “house” to which I have gone, is composed of his enemies. What right has any church to arrogate to itself the peculiar title of “friends” of Christ, in opposition to those, who, acknowledging Christ as their Lord and Master, are striving to “do” his commandments—aye, and doing them too, if we may be allowed to judge by their lives of purity and benevolence? It is high time that men were judged by their fruits, and not by their orthodoxy. It is high time to learn that piety consists in what we “do,” and not in what we say. I do not wish to be understood as conveying the idea that our religious belief is not of consummate importance. I know that it is; for our belief influences our conduct; but, in the present day, some men are too apt to rest satisfied with their orthodoxy. It must, at least, be acknowledged, that things have that appearance, when men are not willing to allow the name of Christians to those whose speculative opinions they consider unorthodox, even when they seem to bring forth “the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace,”. Let us welcome as Christians all who are earnestly endeavoring to do what their Lord has commanded, whatever interpretation they may give to certain passages of Scripture, and however they may decide certain questions which do not in the least affect the question of their Master’s authority.

Another of your remarks is of the same character as that I have just noticed. “Surely,” you say, “you will not be permitted thus to wander from the fold of Christ to be devoured by wolves in sheep’s clothing; I cannot believe that you will finally depart; but I shudder to think of the severe chastisements which may be necessary to bring you back.” I trust, my dear Sir, you do not believe that I have wilfully wandered from what you assert to be the fold of Christ; and if I am anxiously seeking for the truth, even in dangerous paths, I do not see why you should suppose my Heavenly Father would find it necessary to scourge me back again. When the shepherd left his ninety and nine sheep to go and seek for the one which had wandered away and was lost, we read that when he had found it, he did not scourge it back to the fold, but laid it “on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Was not this parable intended as a beautiful illustration of the untiring love of our Heavenly Father? And in regard to the expression, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” I am charitable enough to suppose that you used it as a mere figure of speech, without any definite meaning, or particular application. But, if you intended to apply it to the Unitarians, I will only ask you to compare the controversial writings of the Orthodox and of Unitarians, and then candidly tell me which you think the term “wolves” will most legitimately apply.

Your wish, so kindly expressed, “that I could have been saved from bringing such a deep and lasting reproach upon our holy religion,” exhibits both your love for me, and your zeal for religion. But permit me to say, that, in this instance, I fear your zeal is more for certain dogmas which you think essential to religion, than for religion itself. And if I bring “a deep and lasting reproach” upon such an exclusive system, I have nothing to do but to thank God, and go forward. That is just what I would wish to do. If I can convince any person, be that person ever so insignificant, that a rigid adherence to certain tenets is not religion, I shall not have suffered in vain.

One of my friends alluded, in a letter to me, to the “awful lengths” to which I had gone. I was startled, and feared that my friend was under some impression for which there was no foundation. I wrote to request that friend to tell me in plain language, without any figurative embellishment, exactly what was intended by the expression. The reply was, “I know not of any thing more awful than the crime of crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to open shame.” This was discouraging; I had asked for plain language, and I received a reply couched in highly figurative terms. I protest against this method of arbitrary personal application of figurative language. It is not reasonable, it is not fair. Such charges cannot be met. A question of interpretation must first be raised and settled. We must first decide, with mathematical precision, what course of conduct amounts to “the crime of crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to open shame.”

I will conclude this communication by merely making a remark or two upon the following sentence of your letter. “You must admit,” you observe, “that your change will be followed by most serious consequences. Your writings and opinions have been published to the world. I cannot imagine what the effect will be. Your new friends cannot receive the truths contained in them, and what good effect can they produce on others when they learn that the writer has herself renounced them.”

I have somewhere met with the remark, that “religion is a sentiment, and not a science.” This very important distinction I wish my friends would endeavor to bear in mind. The power of religion over my heart will be in proportion as I bow with reverence, and submit with childlike confidence, to the will and authority of my Heavenly Father, and of his authorized messenger, Jesus Christ; and not in proportion to my supposed understanding of the essence or nature of either God or Christ. Viewing religion in this light—as an all-absorbing sentiment—I have not changed at all. I have not “renounced” the “sentiments” contained in my published writings. They are dearer to me than ever. And, moreover, my “new friends,” by which phrase you mean Unitarians, can and do “receive the truths” they contain, with the exception of an occasional recognition of certain doctrines. I have never endeavored to settle disputed abstract questions; what I have written has been merely the outpouring of my heart; a heart wounded by affliction, and seeking to sustain itself in God, my Father, and in Christ, my Saviour. It is my happiness to know that many Unitarians have had their faith strengthened by a simple recital of what God had done for one of his afflicted children,—and have joined with me in my songs of triumph, gratitude, and praise.

[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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