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HAD not religion been made an article of merchandise, and a class of men set apart to retail it for the benefit of themselves, the enormous evils that have resulted, would not have occurred. As it is, an opposition to the dogmas of a preacher of any denomination has a direct tendency, by lowering his tenets in the estimation of the public, to depreciate the profits of his trade. In self defence, therefore, he turns upon the assailant, and applies to him names to which he attaches opprobrious meanings, such as heretic, infidel, &c. Heretic, however, in the literal sense of the term, means simply a person who entertains an opinion on doctrinal points of religion contrary to the generally received opinion, at any particular period. Thus the catholics, by way of reproach, denominate the protestants heretics, and the protestants, in their turn, apply the same epithet to universalists and unitarians. The late Rev. John Mason, to show his strong disapprobation of the latter sect, went so far as to declare to his congregation, that he would not disgrace the devil so much as to compare them to him.
As to the term infidel, all sects are infidels to each other, in consequence of the discrepance in their respective tenets, which laymen have taken no more part in forming than in their own creation. They are made for them by persons who are paid for their services, and whose interest it is to render them obscure, that they may require explanation. As well, therefore, might mankind quarrel about their stature, as about a difference of opinions in the acquirement of which they have been entirely passive, and of the truth of which, neither laymen nor their teachers can have the least possible knowledge.
The whole mystery, as before observed, of the heart burnings and ill will among Christian sects, arises from having made of religion a trade; which has caused a rivalry and contention
among the professors of the art of soul-saving that would disgrace any other business whatever. It is of course the interest of every sectarian preacher to draw after him as many hearers as possible, in order to increase his emoluments; and the means naturally suggested to effect this, is to abuse and vilify all other schemes of salvation but his own.
Thus have religious parties been formed, and deadly animosities engendered and cherished throughout christendom ever since the introduction of the Jewish and Christian dogmas; and the gibbet and the stake have been appealed to as the ultimate reason of fanatics. Well, therefore, might the venerable John Adams exclaim, as reported by Jefferson, "This would be the best of worlds, if there were no religion in it."
The only cure for the evils of religion, the curse of supersti tion, which has been entailed upon mankind by an interested priesthood, is for every one to think for himself, and not pay others to think for him; to reassume that common sense with which nature has endowed him, and of which he has been de prived by his spiritual teachers.
"We have," says Jefferson, (see Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 322,) "most unwisely committed to the hierophants of our particular superstition, the direction of public opinion, that lord of the universe. We have given them stated and privileged days to collect and catechise us, opportunities of delivering their oracles to the people in mass, and of moulding their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands. But in despite of their fulminations against endeavours to enlighten the general mind, to improve the reason of the people, and encourage them in the use of it, the liberality of this state will support this institution,* and give fair play to the cultivation of reason."
The manner in which ministers of the gospel are got up, worthy a passing notice. Young men who receive a collegiate education, are governed in the choice of business, by the advice of parents, the opinion they entertain of the abilities they possess, or the apparent prospect of the greatest gain in either of the learned professions, without regard to their religious propensities. Those who determine on divinity, in the last year of their term at college, hold conference meetings, and exercise themselves in the art of praying, and in disquisitions on religion
Divines thus formed, can readily accommodate their religion to circumstances. If they find the pulpit overstocked in the persuasion in which they were educated, they often change their opinion, and adopt another creed. There are several instances in this city, of young men, who were educated presbyterians, becoming episcopal clergymen, in consequence, as they declared to intimate friends, of that church paying better than the one they abandoned. Men of liberal education, who have gained
*The University of Charlottesville, in Virginia, of which Mr. Jefferson was the founder.
some knowledge of the frauds of religion, can easier change their creeds than sincere devotees who are duped by them.
And what does their preaching amount to? What is the mighty boon obtained, as is said, by the excruciating sufferings even of a God; the glad tidings trumpeted forth by divines, and hailed with great joy by their grateful hearers? What is it, but that a very small portion of the human species will be made happy in another life, and that the remainder will be roasted, in a brimstone fire, to all eternity? Are these glad tidings? Are they not rather to be deprecated as the tidings of damnation? Shall human reason be tortured for arguments in proof of a doctrine so abhorrent to justice and humanity; so abhorrent to any rational idea that can be conceived of a Creator, and of every principle of right and wrong established among men? The chances in this lottery of life and death, according to the statements of theologians, are at least, a thousand to one against every living soul; and yet the scheme is cherished as an infinite benefit to mankind. And what are the alleged causes that involved the human race in this shocking predicament? Why, that a woman in some age of the world, nobody knows when or where, eat an apple, or some other fruit, contrary to the commands of her Maker.
"The very head and front of her offending
Hath this extent, no more."
Upon this pitiful story, the whole foundation of priestcraft is aid. It is followed up with the sacrifice of a god to atone for the monstrous offence of poor Eve; and then comes the great benefit of the boasted atonement; which, by the way, is to procure salvation only for those who had been previously elected for that purpose; and who are coerced into the true faith through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost, without the least claims on account of their own merits; whilst the rest, who could be no more implicated in the faux pas of the first pair than the former, are debarred that favour by an absolute decree. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness."
It is matter of surprise that any person, who believes in the existence of a Supreme Being, should have the hardihood to attribute to him such deliberate cruelty, such pitiful subterfuge, such palpable mockery of justice?
All clergymen deem themselves to be numbered among the elect, and are so considered by their followers; and that the bulk of their congregations are doomed to perdition. In this point of view, it is heart-rending for a man of sense and feeling to witness with what sang froid, and cruel, I had almost said savage exultation, they expatiate upon the tortures of the damned; whilst their hearers, as tame and passive as lambs, listen with reverential awe and respect, and appear to acquiesce in the justness of their condemnation. In fact, the members of presbyterian congregations, in general, would not like their minister if he
did not preach hell fire as the just reward of their backslidings, and want of faith and zeal in the cause of Christ; and in default thereof, would change him for another more orthodox. As is required, they profess a willingness to be damned, provided nevertheless, that the glory of God shall be thereby enhanced. The following are fair samples of the eternal ding-dong upon this subject, with which calvinistic divines regale their hearers. The late Dr. Jonathan Edwards, (whose writings are highly applauded by the English reviewers, who seem to consider it their interest to commend those whose aim is to stupify and besot the minds of the people,) in a sermon on the duration and torments of hell, says,
"Be entreated to consider attentively how great and awful a thing Eternity is. Although you cannot comprehend it the more by considering, yet you may be made more sensible that it is not a thing to be disregarded. Do but consider what it is to suffer extreme pain for ever and ever; to suffer it day and night, from one day to another, from one year to another, from one age to another, from one thousand ages to another; and so adding age to age, and thousands to thousands, in pain, in wailing and tormenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth; with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, with your bodies, and every member of them, full of racking torture; without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of hiding yourselves from him; without any possibility of diverting your thoughts from your pain; without any possibility of obtaining any manner of mitigation, or help, or change for the better. How dismal will it be, when you are under these racking torments, to know assuredly that you never, never shall be delivered from them."- "The saints in glory will be far more sensible how dreadful the wrath of God is, and will better understand how terrible the sufferings of the damned are, yet this will be no occasion of grief to them, but rejoicing. They will not be sorry for the damned; it will cause no uneasiness or dissatisfaction to them, but, on the contrary, when they see this sight it will occa sion rejoicing and excite them to joyful praises."
The Rev. Dr. Emmons, of Massachusetts, distinguished for his piety and biblical knowledge, gives the following lively description of the joys of the elect, contrasted with the sufferings of the reprobated:
"The happiness of the elect in heaven will in part consist in witnessing the torments of the damned in hell, and among these it may be their own children, parents, husbands, wives, and friends on earth.
"One part of the business of the blessed is to celebrate the doctrine of reprobation. While the decree of reprobation is externally executing on the vessels of wrath, the smoke of their torment will be eternally ascending in the view of the vessels of
mercy, who instead of taking the part of those miserable objects, will say amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord.
"When the saints shall see how great the misery is from which God hath saved them, and how great a difference he hath made between their state, and the state of others who were by nature, and perhaps by practice, no more sinful and ill-deserving than they, it will give them more a sense of the wonderfulness of God's grace to them. Every time they look upon the damned, it will excite in them a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God in making them so to differ. The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints for ever."
Dr. Parish, of the same state, in a sermon delivered in the time of our late war with England, in denunciation of his countrymen who rendered it their support, exclaimed, "How will the supporters of this anti-christian warfare endure their sentence, endure their own reflections; endure the fire that for ever burns: the worm that never dies; the hosannas of neaven. whe the smoke of their torments will ascend for ever and ever!"
Notwithstanding the confidence and apparent self-security in which presbyterian ministers animat upon the vindictive spirit of the Almighty, and the horrors of that hell, which, according to them, he has prepared for the reception of the greatest portion of his creatures, if reliance can be had upon the view taken of the means necessary for salvation by the late Bishop Hobart, their condemnation is inevitable.
The grand panacea for the cure of all evil, and the restoration of man to the favour of the Deity, seems, with the bishop, to consist in the due administration of the rite of baptism. In his Companion to the Altar, he says:
"In this church, the body which derives ite, strength and salvation from Christ its head, baptism was instituted as tae sacred rite of admission. In this regenerating ordinance, fallen man is born again from a state of condemnation to a state of grace. He obtains a title to the presence of the Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of sins, to all those precious and immortal blessings which the blood of Christ purchased." Com. for the Allar, ed. 1824, p. 186.
"Wherever the gospel is promulgated, the only mode through which we can obtain a title to those blessings and privileges which Christ has purchased for his mystical body, the church, is the sacrament of baptism. Repentance, faith, and obedience, will not of themselves be effectual to our salvation. We may sincerely repent of our sins-heartily believe the Gospel; we may walk in the paths of holy obedience: but until we enter into covenant with God by baptism, and ratify our vows of allegiance and duty at the holy sacrament of the Supper-commemorate the mysterious sacrifice of Christ, we cannot assert any claim to salvation." Ib. pp. 189–90.