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To thee the love of woman hath gone down;
Earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee!
Letters from the Rev. R. Wright, to the Unitarians in the North-east District. LETTER IV.
Trowbridge, July 4, 1826.
MY CHRISTIAN BRETHREN,
ONE subject on which I think it necessary to address you, relates to persons who may be friendly to you, who agree with you in the doctrine of the Divine Unity, and the natural goodness and mercifulness of God, and in approving of the moral parts of Christianity; but who do not admit the divinity of the mission and office of Jesus Christ, or the reality of the miracles recorded in the New Testament. This class of Unbelievers, while they give evidence of their integrity, and shew by their fruits that they are influenced by good principles, certainly deserve not only candid, but liberal and kind treatment. It would be extremely unjust to confound them with the scurrilous revilers of Christ and Christianity, and those who cast off all religion, and who shew by their fruits that they wish to shake off the salutary restraints of the gospel, and the obligations to a virtuous and benevolent course which it imposes. Such a description of Unbelievers as I refer to appears not to have existed in the days of Christ and the apostles, and probably never would have existed where the gospel was known and its privileges enjoyed, had not Christianity been greatly corrupted in doctrine, spirit and practice. The unbelievers we read of in the New Testament, if not hypocrites, were worldly-minded, corrupt and bad men; hence the severe language used by Jesus and his apostles respecting them; but as our Lord has given us but one rule by which we are to judge of men, i. e. as we judge of trees, by their fruit, it must be unauthorized, and. a violation of that rule, to call those whose conduct is
virtuous and benevolent, bad men, though they reject what we believe to be true and highly important. He alone who searcheth the heart, and is acquainted with the secret motives and hidden springs of action, can tell how far the unbelief of such persons as I am speaking of, and theirerrors, are involuntary, and arise from insuperable circumstances; or how far their rejection of what we deem most true and valuable involves culpability: it belongs to him, not to us, to judge them; for us to do it would be presumptuous and wicked: and the New Testament assures us, that at the last day men will be judged and rewarded or punished, not according to what they have believed or disbelieved, but according to their works. It is wrong for you to censure and condemn, or to use uncharitable language respecting any persons, in particular if they be virtuous in their conduct. Harsh language and uncharitable treatment will do nothing towards convincing Unbelievers; but will rather tend to strengthen them in their unbelief, and to dishonour Christianity, so far as indulged in by its -professors. I beseech you, my brethren, carefully to guard against this evil.
It has been a charge against Unitarians that Unbelievers attend some of their places of worship, and are mixed up with their congregations; this charge has been brought against some of you: hence I have thought it proper to consider it in these Letters, and to give you such advice as seems to me most proper in this case.
1. I consider the charge itself, though not altogether unfounded, to exaggerate the matter, and to place it in an unfair light, by supposing that Unbelievers are to be found in no Christian congregations but those of Unitarians. If it be an evil it is not the less so because it exists not exclusively among Unitarians; but when the reputed orthodox so represent it, the motive seems obvious; it is with a view to scandalize the Unitarian doctrine and its professors as favourable to Infidelity. I am far from deriving pleasure from a knowledge of the evils which exist among other denominations of Christians; but I have known Unbelievers to exist among other Christian congregations, of Dissenters and Methodists, to say nothing of the Esta ́blished Church, as well as those of Unitarians; though they have been less open in expressing themselves, because the same liberty has not been admitted among the former as among the latter consequently doubts have
been concealed, and scepticism has been more reserved, and dissimulation sometimes practised.
2. If it be granted that Unbelievers more commonly attend Unitarian than reputed Orthodox places of worship, a reason may be assigned for this which is not disreputable either to Unitarianism or its professors. Unitarianism has not produced the Unbelievers which are found in the congregations of its professors; those congregations as such are too modern in England, and its legal profession too recent, for this to have been generally the case; it is well known that most of the Unbelievers who come among us were bred in reputed Orthodoxy, and have been led by identifying the dogmas of Orthodoxy with the Scriptures to become Unbelievers: this, at least, first led them to question the truth of Christianity. Many such have been recovered by the knowledge of Unitarianism to the faith of Christ; others have said, that could they be convinced that Unitarianism is identical with the New Testament, they should be Christians.-Virtuous Unbelievers, who would otherwise be driven from all public worship and religious instruction, attend Unitarian chapels, because, though they believe not all they hear, their reason is not revolted, nor their feelings shocked; and to such places they can take their families with some degree of satisfaction: this may prevent that deterioration of character which a total neglect of public worship and religious instruction would produce, in some good degree counteract the influence of speculative unbelief, and if it do not issue in their recovery to Christian belief, may be of essential benefit to their families, who might otherwise be brought up without any religion. It certainly is no dishonour to Unitarianism that it retains some degree of the attention of virtuous Unbelievers to religious worship and Christian instruction; and if their unbelief should continue, it cannot be the fault of Unitarianism, as faith in Christ is constantly maintained as an essential part of it.
3. As, for some reason or other, Unbelievers are found among those who attend some of your places of worship, it is of importance to consider how you ought to act towards them; and, in doing this, it is proper to take into view what are likely to be their motives in attending. I am speaking of Unbelievers who are upright and virtuous, so far as can be known by the general tenor of their conduct; and recollect that Christian charity requires, that
you should believe and hope the best, in every case, that all the circumstances, candidly weighed, will allow. It is difficult to conceive that Unbelievers can be influenced by bad motives to attend on your public services, as they have no worldly honour, power, einolument, or advantages whatever to hope for from it; if influenced by sinister motives they would be likely to attend the Established Church, or among some more popular party of Dissenters, rather than among you. It is likely their early habits render it pleasant, if not necessary to their comfort, to attend at some place of public worship; and both their understanding and their hearts give the preference to Unis tarian worship; or, it is possible, after all, that they have so much relish for Christianity, and their speculative notions have so little influence, that they really find enjoy ment in Christian worship; or they may still see so much excellence in Christianity that they may feel interested in its promotion for the good of mankind, and may wish to keep the attention of their families engaged to it; or, which I know to be the case with some, they may think and speak of themselves as Unbelievers, merely because they cannot find demonstration where only moral evidence exists, and cannot find the same absolute certainty which they have heard some Christians express. Whichsoever of these, or whatever other motives may influence them to attend among you, it would be uncharitable and unjust to ascribe it to any bad motive, and you ought to act towards them in the spirit of your great Master, in such a manner as is calculated to impress them with the happy influence of faith in Christ upon the temper and conduct, doing all you can to remove their doubts and difficulties, and to win their attention to the evidences of truth.
4. It certainly would be improper, how much soever you may respect and esteem Unbelievers who attend on your public services and mix in your congregations, on account of their virtue and goodness, either to say or do any thing that would look like complimenting or countenancing their unbelief, as if it was the effect of superior strength of mind, or of freedom of thought, or of fearlessness of character: this would justly lead others to ques tion your Christian sincerity, and would be highly injuriYou ought never to speak or act otherwise than as Christians, under the foolish notion that your letting your faith and hope prominently appear, even in your inter
course with Unbelievers, would give offence. Sensible and honest Unbelievers will respect you the more for your speaking and acting in character as Christians; your allegiance to Jesus Christ absolutely requires it of you; and every Christian principle and motive should impel you thus to act. All your conversation should be with simplicity and godly sincerity. Any want of firmness and steady consistency, in the profession of your faith in Christ, and in acting as believers in him, will injure your character in the view even of Unbelievers, and tend to strengthen them in their unbelief. It is not necessary for you to be always disputing with them when in their company; but so far as circumstances require it, you should be ready to shew the steadfastness of your faith, and to give a reason of the hope which is in you. In those places where sone Unbelievers attend, it would be wrong for the minister to seem to point at them in his public services; this would only irritate and do harm, and might lead to unpleasant altercation it will be wiser and better for him to make the services truly Christian, and conduct them as he would if no such persons were present. If the services be judiciously conducted, and the members of your congregations conduct themselves in a truly Christian manner, you will sustain no injury from a few Unbelievers attending on your public services, and being treated with candour, liberality and respect.
My remarks on this subject having swelled beyond what I had expected, I must reserve what I have further to say on the treatment of Unbelievers by Christian congregations to my next letter; in the mean time I direct your attention to the Monthly Repository, where a controversy on this subject is going on: and remain, most truly yours,
Cedars of Lebanon.
THE extract from Harris, relating to the small number of Cedar Trees in Lebanon, given in our last number, p. 220, is agreeable to the representations of many other writers, but is improbable in itself, and is at variance with the report of some modern travellers of the highest credit. The following interesting passage is from the journals of Mr Fisk, the American missionary to the Holy Land. We