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From the Author to W- W-,
I was duly favoured with your letter of the 1st instant, in which you mention having seen my small publication on “Nature, Christianity and Providence,” and request me to send you a few copies, which you say you think you can dispose of. I accordingly send you twenty copies; and request you will put down my name as a subscriber for “The Gospel Communicator,"—send also a copy of the Hymn Book you mention. You wish to know whether the Theological Reviewers have reviewed my work? They have. On the scientific part they bestow much praise. On the “Reflections,” they admit “there is much that we approve of.” and their disapproval, in short, appears to be chiefly directed against , a Mr. Vaugham, and Dr. Estlen, with whom I am sorry they should identify me, especially as they affirm that Dr. Estlen denies the divinity of our Saviour, than which nothing could be more opposite to my real sentiments. You request, Sir, that a correspondence may be established between us. In this, I dare say, I would be the gainer. But, whatever benefit I might derive from your pen, you would have a poor correspondent of me—my literary acquirements are very humble indeed. I never turned my attention to universal restitution, which forms a part of my publication, till a pamphlet, on that subject, accidentally fell into my hands. Although that doctrine is evidently taught in scripture, I say that I never seriously thought upon it; which careless inattention to the light of truth, I can only ascribe to the influence of education, and early prejudices. I have long, however, considered it as the express and unequivocal doctrine of the Bible (a glorious and cheering doctrine to ruined sinners), that the redemption by Jesus Christ is, or will be, ultimately greater than the evil introduced by the fall of our first parents, (Romans, v., 15–18;) but how to make it so, according to what are called the orthodox, or the prevailing opinions and systems, I found the utmost difficulty. I have been accustomed, in general, to think for myself, in reading the scriptures; taking at same time, with caution, the benefit of such opinions of others, as appeared to me worthy of approbation. The longer that I live, however, under this exercise, I am the more persuaded
that the great bulk of mankind, are really more guided by the prevailing notions, opinions, and prejudices of the times, than by their own judgement, and by the standard of truth and reason. As a proof of this, and as one instance only of a thousand that might be given, I would just advert to the ordinance of baptism. That those who believe in Jesus Christ should be baptised (upon their profession of his name) few will attempt to deny. This is evident and plain, both from the express words of him who instituted the ordinance—from the preaching of the Apostles—and from the practice of the first churches. This is surely enough for us, and ought, therefore, to be obeyed. How is it, then, that we find this neglected, and people presenting their unconscious infants to this institution, when we have not one sentence in all the New Testament, either of precept nor example, for infant baptism, or rather infant sprinkling 2 To me the answer appears now so plain and obvious, that I have often wondered why I was so long the dupe of a custom, unauthorised by seripture. In the same manner, though not altogether with the same degree of persuasion, do I now begin to look on the great prevalence of opinion in favour of never-ending misery. And when I can, in some measure, divest myself of the common prejudices, and look at the scriptures, as a whole, I think I can perceive in them a harmony and beauty; and also a consistency and amiableness in the character and oeconomy of the Deity, which it would be impossible to admit, except on the plan of universal redemption. But, as I am only enquiring after truth, I must beware of taking any thing for granted on which there may yet hang the shadow of a doubt, and shall decline speaking with decision.
to send me.
From W- W- to the Author. DEAR SIR, Your epistle is an acquisition for which I return thanks to Him who, in the dispensations of his providence and grace, causes his light to shine on the evil and the good, and his blessings to descend on the just and the unjust. You have, herewith, the Gospel Communicator; and the Hymn
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I hope I shall be aided in my enquiries by the publication you are &# Book; and, with respect to the former, I must say, that when you conceive so very humbly of your “literary acquirements,” I am almost afraid that mine will prove disgusting. The leading article in the next volume will be Strictures on the Shorter Catechism, deduced in sundry discourses, delivered in G–
With respect to baptism, we make that a matter of forbearance. I consider what is denominated infant baptism, as a solemn dedication of children to God, and I do not consider the immersion of adults to be that one baptism, which alone is efficacious; because: that is a baptism, not into water, but into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Hence, the only fault, that I think, I perceive in the denomination called Baptists, is, that they rest too much im, or rather hold too tenacious to, ordinances.
I rejoice in your sentiments respecting the Deity of Jesus Christ, and think your reviewer has not done you justice. He seems to be aware, that to affix a stigma upon your sentiments, he must identify you with something opprobrious—this is certainly uncandid.
I shall not begin to insist on particulars, because, the Gospel Communicator will inform you of manythings respecting our state, as a sect of worshiping christians; and I shall be happy to receive your remarks upon a future occasion.— I am,
- I duly received your esteemed letter of the 21st July, together with the books, which, so far as I have read, I can say that I like. But since the receipt of them, I have been much from home, so that I have hardly yet read the one half of the “Gospel Communicator.” I admire Mr. Winchester's Sermon, and like your own discourses very much. The proceedings of the orthodox party, in excommunicating Mrs. T-for holding the amiable sentiment of the universality of the atonement, are quite in character:— But to return to your letter.
You say, in regard to the * of infants, that you consider
it “as a solemn dedication of children to God.” And, farther, “ the only fault that I think I perceive in the denomination called Baptists is, that they rest too much in, or rather hold too tenaciously to, ordinances.” With regard to your first remark, I would ask—Where do you find authority for this dedication of children to God, by baptism, other than in the commandments of men 2 For, as I said before, you cannot show me, in all the New Testament, one word, either of precept or example, for this practice. And, with regard to your second (although I am agreed with you respecting the “one baptism"), I rather wonder that you, who profess to “call no man master”—you who labour to detect and expose the commandments and institutions of men, as subversive of the ordinances of God, should seem to think lightly of any one for conscientiously, and even “tenaciously," holding a plain and a positive institution of Christ, in preference to that which is of human invention. But I shall drop this, and advert to the subject about, which I am at present, more particularly interested, and which led to our correspondence.
"... I really cannot suffer myself, as I find too many do, to suppress and smother all inquiry and information on this momentous subject. This is what I find most fault with people for—their refusing to look the subject fair in the face, and their determination to adhere to the popular doctrine of never-ending misery, at all hazards, and to resist everything, even of scripture, that has the smallest tendency to encourage, on the contrary, but a ray of hope
to the non-elect. The other night, I read Winchester's Sermon .
(which is worth a thousand volumes), to a christian who is most dear to me. The effect it produced was a sigh or two, in silence, without one word of contradiction, which I considered no small matter. I would have little doubt of the predominance of this amiable and god-like doctrine (which may, with propriety, be called the gospel), in opposition to the bug-bear doctrine of the orthodox clergy, if people would but read and think for themselves. But, so deeply-rooted is prejudice, that I cannot get those persons, about whom I am most solicitious, prevailed upon to read—they are afraid of being contaminated—they are afraid of losing caste. TRUTH, ought to be the object of every one's research, whether in the field of philosophy, or christianity; and I am certain that truth can never lose any thing, by impartial inquiry. My worthy friend, above alluded to, had the fortitude, for a while, to unfetter her
mind, and think for herself, on the subject of universal redemption. During that period, she was forced to acknowledge, that, under that belief, she could perceive a consistency in the Divine character, and a harmony in the scriptures, which she could not otherwise perceive; but this release from human fetters, was of short duration. In her intercourse with others, of the popular belief, she soon became afraid, even to hint at a doubt on the subject, and returned to her old resting-place, on the orthodox scheme—nor dares again so much as to venture upon inquiry, lest she should be again unsettled, probably again convicted (as she professed for a time to be), and, consequently, compelled to change her principles, and her religious connexions. Still, however, she acknowledges, that a christian may, without injury to himself, hold the benevolent sentiment; but cannot suffer the thought that any of the human race, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians, 11. 12.), should have any ray of hope, held out to them, as it respects eternity; and, the reason is, lest it should encourage licentiousness. But, what right have we to start such objections, or to attribute such effects to this god-like doctrine 2–It is presumptious. If it has a claim upon our belief, we ought to avow it, and leave the effects and consequences to Him, whose ways are inscrutable, and to whom we have no right to say, “what doest thou ?” * ...
But the doctrine of reconcilation, when really believed in, must have quite the opposite effect, by constraining pardoned sinners to love and obey the God of their salvation. Surely, the doctrine of never-ending damnation is not more likely to reconcile men to God, then the doctrine of divine love and forgiveness, and of universal redemption. But I shall yet go farther, and aver, that it is impossible, that one really under the influence of a firm belief in the unbounded love of God, can lead a licentious life. Taking a view of the narrow scheme of redemption, so generally held forth, contrasted with the grand idea of a sin-pardoning, and universally reconciling JEHOVAH-who can cease to exclaim, under a sense of love and gratitude “Is this the manner of man, O Lord God l” Truly, the manner of man is different indeed! . Verily, “Love is of God, and he that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” The question often recurs to my mind—how can that doctrine, which does not embrace universal reconciliation, be called the gospel, or glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.