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'THE Author regrets having to close his Correspondence with the Baptist Minister without having another reply from him, as he is most anxious that the merits of the point in dispute should be fairly examined, in a scriptural way; but he has signified that he will not again write on the subject. As the Author is only inquiring after Truth, and being convinced that truth can never suffer from an impartial inquiry—nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to have had it in his power to reply to the utmost force that his opponent could bring against him. But, he humbly conceives, that any candid reader will admit, that he has not only maintained his point on the broad ground of scripture, but that there is hardly an objection which can be brought from the scriptures, by his opponent, that has not already been answered. As truth is generally elicited by controversy, the Author would be happy that any one would reply, as he is convinced, that the more the subject is investigated, the better,—and being anxious that truth should prevail over the systems of men.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF PREJUDICE AND CUSTOM, AND THE
DOMINATION OF THE CLERGY OVER THE MINDS
In the course of my observation and experience, I have found, that most part of professing christians, whom I hare conversed with, may be said to be weded to their systems. You will find that each individual of the different sectaries can say die " Shibboleth" of the creed of his party pretty distinctly; Of, to make use of a common expression among. masons, and other craftsmen,—" they have got the word?" Their opinions, and sentiments, are formed by education or by prejudice, according to the Calvinistic system, the Arminian system, or whatever may be the peculiarities of their party; and their readings, and interpretations of the scriptures, are influenced accordingly. How true are the words of the poet:—
"Most men, by education are mislead:
Or, as the late Richard Watson, Bishop of Landaff, expresses it, —" Our opinions, on many important subjects, are formed as much on prejudice, as on reason: and when an opinion is once taken up, it is seldom changed, especially in matters not admitting any criterion of certainty."
Instead of forming our opinions, from the scriptures, as we are enjoined to do (Isa. viii. 20.—John v. 39.) we garble the bible, in order to find something to support our opinions already formed by human creeds and standards. This support we are sure to find, whatever be our tenets, as by detaching passages, unconnected with the whole, and "daubing them with" our own "untempered morter," we will make the scriptures to suit almost any absurdity. In so far, therefore, as respects their particular tenets, almost every sectarian may be said to have a kind of scriptural knowledge. But alas! they will, in general, receive no light, or knowledge, but through the medium of their particular opinions: no truth, which will not comport with their systems, can reach conviction to their minds. They appear, either to consider that they have nothing to do with such passages as the following, or are afraid to have recourse to the test,—" Try the spirits whether they be of God,"— "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." They will acknowledge, in general terms, that " God is love:"—that he is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." But Bpeak to them about the unbounded love of God, as taught by the universalists, let it be in the very words of scripture itself, if it oversteps the limits of their ordinary way of talking and thinking, tiiey will sneer at it. Point them to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world," and to the numberless passages that express, in the most unequivocal manner, the ultimate reconciliation, of all things to Christ, and they will declaim against it. Universal reconciliation, so lovely, and so fraught with universal bliss, fill them with a kind of dread! Yet, bring them to the divine test, and they cannot answer a word.
Ask them, is the doctrine scriptural?—they cannot deny it. Does it breathe a spirit of heavenly benevolence?—they must admit it. Does it really accord with their own best feelings, and do their own minds secretly approve of it?—they cannot deny this either. Is it also in accordance with the undeniable spirit of the gospel, and the benevolent feelings of every good christian?—they are forced to acknowledge it. Is the influence of the doctrine, on the mind of a believer, more likely to lead to the fulfilling of the law, namely,—love to God, and to all mankind/—they cannot say otherwise. Yet, strange!—when thus sore pressed, and hounded from station to station, till they have no resting-place left for the Bole of their feet,—and even after they have made the above forced acknowledgements, in favour of the doctrine, they will gnash their teeth at it.
Whence proceeds such opposition, to all that is confessedly so God-like, so lovely, and of good report, and so heavenly, and pure, both in its nature and tendency?—Whether this opposition is more God-like, or hellish-like, judge ye. Let this "dangerous doctrine," as some are pleased to call it, and its opposite, be candidly brought to the test of the scriptures, or of reason, and their effects fairly considered, and there can be no difficulty in deciding between them. In short, "by their fruits ye shall know them." And that the doctrine I am advocating is, in its very nature, more calculated to promote, and to cherish, all the fruits of the spirit, than the opposite, it would be absurd to deny.
The doctrine of endless torments was the grandest invention for the clergy, that ever was thought upon. Wolves, in the character of priests, have, in every age, "crept into the church, not sparing the flock" as was foretold of them (Matt. vii. 15.—Acts xx. 29.—2 Peter ii. 1). And, by this very doctrine, the clergy have maintained their importance over their poor credulous flocks, and kept their minds and consciences in subjection and awe. It is very remarkable, and shows how strenuous the clergy have always been for this doctrine, that, wheresoever our common translation admits of another reading, it generally happens, that the alteration of the reading, if adopted, tends, if not to universal redemption, at least to exhibit a more benign aspect to perishing sinners. This, of itself, speaks volumes on the subject, and ought to make us "beware of the doctrine of these Pharisees." Our Lord says of such—" Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in;" or, ye cannot suffer to see them enter, (Mat. xxiii. 13). Against no class of men did the Saviour pronounce such weighty rebukes, as against the priests and Pharisees "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint," &c. " and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith;—ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!" And after pronouncing " woe" against them, eight times in one chapter, (xxiii.) he follows it up thus—" ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell." Think on this, ye clergy, who, in the present day, shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, by your doctrines.
"To a belief in the doctrine of the eternity of hell torments," says Dr. Estlin, "I impute more absurdity, more misery, and more unchristian conduct, than to all other false opinions put together. The effects of this doctrine, when a person applies it to himself, are gloom and despair; when he applies it toothers, pride, cruelty, hatred, and all the worst passions of human nature. It is the parent of superstition, and of all the corruptions of christianity. It is the
vital principle of persecution, without which the monster could not live. This doctrine constitutes the principal ingredients in the composition of the bigot,—the persecutor,—the inquisitor." How different the effects of the other, which leads to "the fulfilling of the law,"—love to God and to all mankind, (Rom. xiii. 10).
By none are we so much in danger of being led into error, as by those whose office it is to teach us the truth. Not only was this 'manifest in the days when Christ tabernacled on earth, as we have seen; and, not only in this, now manifest under the christian dispensation, as was foretold of them; but, under the old dispensation, we seo the same thing exemplified. Hear the Prophets, upon this subject,—" Her priests have violated my law—Her prophets (false prophets who deceived the people, as many still do), have daubed them with untempered morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, thus saith the Lord, when the Lord hath not spoken," (Ezek. xxii. 25—28). Jehovah, himself, testified of them, saying, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means: and my people love to have it so," (Jeremiah v. 30). Ye who are so far under the domination of the clergy, as to rest satisfied with the systems and opinions they hold forth to you, and who "love to have it so," that they should thus "bear rule" over you, should consider well the danger of so doing. Look at the past history of the world—look at Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, or any of those nations which are, at the present day, so much under the influence and oppression of the clergy, and learn your situation, by viewing their ignorance, superstition, and wretchedness. All such, are the effects of trusting in the "lying vanities" of priestcraft, more than in "the living God; who is the Saviour of all men;"— in "the doctrines and commandments of men," rather than in "the word of the truth of the gospel." Well might it be said of them, "the Lord hath not sent thee,—thou makest this people to trust in a lie." So pernicious were the effects of their doctrine, on the minds of their believers, that it is recorded of them, (Ezek. xxii. 25.) "They have devoured souls." "As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by one consent," (Hos. vi. 9). "Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness, and being desolate, it mourneth unto me," (Jer. xii. 10). "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, sayeth the Lord," (Jer.