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really been subdued to God; that they are genuine converts. But after granting this, which is all that can be claimed by anybody, I must be permitted to express my distinct and deep conviction, that the mode of accomplishing this object is ever afterward injurious to these very minds; injurious to society religiously considered; and an obstacle in the way of the conversion and salvation of the greatest number of souls.
It is injurious to these minds. Granting, that their hearts have been subdued to God, it is no less true, in most instances, that their minds, their reasoning powers, have been broken down by man. The intellect has received a shock by this extraordinary and violent treatment, which cannot easly be repaired. It is the very plan of this onset to subject the mind as well as the heart. The theory of conversion, with this class of reformers, comprehends this scope, and is not fulfilled, till this in. tellectual bondage is attained. A narrow circle of thinking and reasoning, in a few set and cant phrases, is prescribed to the converts, from which, if they ever venture to depart, they forfeit the proper character of Christians, and are considered as being actuated by abandonment of principle; or by a return to their old ways; or by conformity to the world. The mind, reduced to such a bond. age, can never afterward be free--cannot be open to gen. eral cultivation and improvement. A false theory of Christian character is propounded and adopted ; a false conscience is formed and nurtured; the intellect is enslaved; and the entire intellectual and moral character is vitiated, as compared with the highest and most desira. ble standard. A false theory of conversion is of course at the basis of all these defects : It is false in the minds of those who origirate and manage these violent excitements; and false, as it becomes stereotyped in the minds of their converts. They allow nobody to be Christians, except by this rule. Whoever do not come into their way of thinking, and whose taste does not lead them to adopt the same cant phrases, when talking on the subject of religion, are no Christians. They can determine a person's Christian character at a glance, or by a word, or by an act, or by the want of some act.
Next, these violent excitements, and the violence that is carried into them, are injurious to society religiously considered. It is impossible, that the mind of a commu. nity should remain long in such a state of excitement. Aware of this, it is a uniform device of those who get them up and who supervise them, to make the most of them to push them to the greatest extreme. They regard it as a harvest time. And just in proportion as the public mind has been overstrained, will be the reaction. It will not simply fall back to a sober position, where it was before being excited, but it will retire into the opposite extreme; and withal there will be left on it the pall of a morbid, painful, alarming indifference to religion. There will be a prevailing impression of the unhealthiness of the excitement, that is gone over, and a proportionate aversion ever to be acted on again in the same way.
And consequently, in the third place, it will prove an obstacle in the way of the conversion and salvation of the greater number of souls.
“ The harvest truly will be past, and the summer ended.” The pale and sickly mantle of autumn will throw its folds over the community; and the chills, and frosts, and bands, and desolation of winter will succeed. Follow the train of these violent excitements, and see if it is not so. It is impossible it should be otherwise. The number of converts made by such violence--the general character of whom is far from being most desirable—though that number may seem to be great for the time, is no compensation for the sad effects left behind, and for the removal of all prospect and hope, that religion can again very soon be made to claim the attention of such a community. It is very reasonable to believe-it is difficult not to be convinced and fully satisfied—that, in view of the evils resulting from such a course to the minds of individuals and of the public, a uniform career of faithful preaching and pastoral labour, on a scale that can be steadily maintained and applied, without coldness on the one hand or intemperate and violent zeal on the other, would, in the long run, be the means of converting and saving many more souls, than by these fitful and violent convulsions, so marked with extravagance and blind zeal.
Let it not be supposed-10, not for a moment—that these remarks have any reference to those outpourings of the Spirit of God, which have been experienced by the religious congregations of this land in fommer periods; and which, I would fain hope, have not been altogether with drawn. God forbid. Bat I refer exclusively to a sys. tem of measures of that specific character, which I have now been considering, so well known to have been recently and widely introduced into this country; which seems to be based opon a theory, that can dispense with Divine influence, and substitute the power of man; and which has so extensively changed the character and ret. olutionized the operations of the religion of this land. They are an entirely new state of things ; they are, as seems to me, the work of man, and not of God. It may fairly be inferred from the spirit that is in them, and from the pretensions which they carry upon their face, that they claim to be the work of man. There is a broad phylactery on the forehead, a legible inscription on the front, of these enterprises : It all depends on our will. And it may easily be believed; it is sufficiently manifest.
The peculiar and quick religious susceptibilities of the people of this land have been tortured upon this rack. That grand and bright development of Christianity, so hopeful of good to America and to the world, which Providence had brought out in the favourable temper of our people towards religion, has been for a season eclipsed; and is even now under a cloud. But it cannot long be
Every great evil of this kind hath a providential remedy; it carries along with it its own cure; society cannot endure it. It only remains for the sober, the enlightened, the pure, the truly zealous ministry of our different denominations, who have seen and deplored these evils, and who have felt themselves threatened to be overwhelmed by them, along with the prostration of the general interests of religion—to arise, to assert, and to wield their own appropriate influence, in united, determined, and persevering efforts to drain the land of this tide of ruin, and to bring back the religious public to their right mind
The proper design and value of religious creeds in connexion with
Church polity and government.
I AM aware that the apparent drift and bearing of the topic here announced may seem at the first glance to be a gratuity in this place. But I have already suggested and openly conveyed in sundry forms, incidental and direct, that the use made of the comprehensive creed, commonly called the Confession of Faith, in the practice of the highest authorities of the Presbyterian church, has been a subject of very grave difficulty in my own mind, in connexion with other developments of our religious world. It has seemed to me also, that this practice is necessarily and rapidly forcing the whole Presbyterian denomination to a crisis, which must involve the consideration and discussion of the topic I have here brought to view, in a new and interesting light. It must now unavoidably and very soon be determined by the Presbyterian church, whether ass to a common creed and confession of faith is tantamount in its authority over the conscience to our obligations of respect for the Bible ; or whether it is to be interpreted as a general expression of our belief in Christianity ;- whether it is to be applied and enforced in whole and in particular-verbatim et literatim—by authoritative interpretation for the time being, which is of course accidental; or whether it is to be regarded as a common and declarative standard of belief, liberally interpreted, in accommodation to that invariable diversity of views, which has always characterized all religious associations, however intimate the fellowship of the individuals composing them;—whether the practical design of a mutual Confession of Faith is to unite in one society for concert of action in promoting
the cause of Christ those Christians, whose religious be. lief is generally of the same type, and so nearly in coincidence as to afford a pleasant and profitable exercise of Christian charity in allowing some slight diversity of speculation, rather than being the occasion of distrust and offence ; or whether the principal object of a creed be to set up and authorize a perpetual inquisition over the minds of a Christian fraternity, and thus permit them the doing of little else besides. If I do not mistake in my observance of the symptoms of the time, this question is now to be tried and settled for a large portion of the religious public of the land; and for momentously important and practical purposes.
I think it morally impossible, in the train of recent events, that the Christian community should not have thought much on this subject, and generally made up their minds.
Inasmuch, therefore, as my own mind has been not a little influenced by this state of things in changing my religious connexion; and inasmuch as I think it must and will be discussed in such a crisis, there may, perhaps, be some apology for my taking a part in it at the conclusion of this volume, so far as to present the substance and results of my own reasonings on the subject; nor can I see, that it is entirely alien to the general design of these pages.
The legitimate design and the exact measure of value of a mutual Confession of faith among Christians associated for the public purposes of a common Christianity, involving the question of the minuteness or generality of its specifications, is perhaps a problem yet to be solved. At the same time, that I have seen reasons for sympathizing to some extent with those who, on account of the abuses of creeds, have declared against the practice altogether, except in a simple confession on the inspired records, I have always rested in the conviction, that a common and mutual declaration of faith in that volume, under specifications sufficiently distinct and sufficient in number to comprehend and indicate the peculiar, fundamental, and leading truths of Christianity, as