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now said, again and again, tends to produce dishonorable apprehensions of God, and gloomy views of life ; and to cramp and degrade the human mind, and must, from the nature of things, be inefficient in producing an elevated piety ; while Unitarianism, it was alleged, tends to produce exalted apprehensions of God, and cheerful views of life, and to enlarge and elevate the mind, and must produce, in those who sincerely embrace it, a fervent and active piety. This was the strain of much that appeared in the religious periodicals of the Unitarians, and, if we have not been misinformed, of much that was said in their ordinary discourses from the pulpit. In several occasional discourses, printed and published by Unitarian clergymen, this advantage was distinctly and confidently claimed for their system. In a sermon, preached at the weekly Lecture in the First Church in Boston, May 20, 1824, and published in the Christian Examiner for May and June in that year, entitled, “On the Causes by which Unitarians have been withheld from exertions in the cause of Foreign missions,” were the following remarks; “ There is, however, yet one other cause, to which the enemies of our distinctive religious sentiments ascribe, what they call, our indifference on the subject of the conversion of the Heathen. It is said, that the evil is to be sought in the very nature and character of our religious sentiments. But is there any justice in this accusation ? Is there in our peculiar sentiments any thing to support the charge, that Unitarianism narrows our sympathies to the confines of those who be
* This sermon was said to have been written by the gentleman who has since published “An appeal to Liberal Christians for the cause of Christianity in India.”
lieve with us ? that it brings á coldness over the heart, which benumbs those affections that would otherwise spread themselves as widely as the existence of man ? Is ours, as it is said to be, a religion of mere speculation ? This we most peremptorily deny.” “I might, I think, most satisfactorily demonstrate, that, in our views of Christianity, there are excitements of a far higher order than in those of any other class of Christians, to zeal in missionary labors for the conversion of the world. The time forbids me even to name them ; though they furnish the best topic that could be desired, for appeals to reason, to conscience, and to the heart.” Dr. Channing, in his sermon delivered at the ordination of his present colleague, June 30, 1824, said, p. 13, “ It is objected to Unitarianism that it does not possess this heart-stirring energy,” of which he had been speaking as required in the ministry in the present age. And in a note appended to the printed discourse, he calls this “a reproach thrown on Unitarian Christianity ;” and proceeds to assign what he supposes to be the causes of the objection, but gives no proof of its being a “reproach.” In a sermon preached at the dedication of the Twelfth Congregational Church in Boston, October 13, 1824, by the Rev. John G. Palfrey, minister of the congregation in Brattle Square, the preacher affirmed, that the “ belief” of the Orthodox is “ adverse to religious progress. Some of them, he admitted, have become good Christians in despite of their errors.” • But," he added, “while we emulate their attainments, may we not think that a character whose root was so firm as to withstand such a shock, might have swelled in
to still nobler dimensions under the culture of a more spiritual and generous faith?” " Let us do no such injustice to the omnipotence of truth," by which he means the system of the Unitarians, “ as to think it a sluggish element. It is thoroughly instinct with life.” “ The unadulterated system of truth," i. e. Unitarianism,“ is a powerfully enlightening and sanctifying faith.” pp. 23, 24, 28, 30.
Such were the assertions of leading Unitarians in relation to the tendency of the two systems; but as yet no proof had been attempted of the truth of these assertions, except in Mr. Sparks's octavo, which had attracted but little attention. At length, on the 24th of August, 1826, the colleague of Dr. Channing preached a discourse, at the dedication of the meeting-house erected the last year in Purchase Street, on Gal. iv. 17, “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.” This sermon, said the Christian Register of Sept. 2, 1826," was a powerfal exculpation of Unitarian Christians from the charge, that their sentiments encourage indifference to religion, and are incompatible with religious feeling. It was demonstrated that the doctrines are ennobling to the mind, and favorable to piety and virtue. The Standing Committee of the Church have unanimously requested a copy of the sermon for the press, and we doubt not it will be perused with high satisfaction by the religious denomination to which the preacher belongs. We hope it will be perused by others also, and that more candid judgment may be expressed towards Unitarians than has sometimes been done by those who did not understand, or refrained from doing justice to, their sentiments.” The
editor of the Christian Examiner, in the number for July and August 1826, gave an abstract of the sermon, and made concerning it the following remarks. The preacher “spoke of the views we," Unitarians, 66 entertain of God; of his relations to us as our Creator, and Father, and our final Judge, and of our relation to him as children and sinners. Upon all these points our doctrines were shown to be peculiarly adapted to call forth deep religious emotion, to excite ardent religious feelings. We wish we could recall the language in which was mentioned that most undeserved of all reproaches, that we make but a light matter of sin. It was an eloquent and triumphant refutation of the calumny; and we know not how any one who heard it, can in conscience hereafter repeat it.” “On the whole it appeared, that, if Unitarianism does not make men zealous, it is not the fault of the system, but owing to its not being intelligently represented and thoroughly believed. It is much more spiritual, tender, and solemn than Orthodoxy, and therefore ought to be less liable to this charge.” “We are ashamed of this apology for an abstract of Mr. Gannett's admirable discourse, it is so meagre.” 66 As the sermon will doubtless be printed, we hope every one who can, will judge for himself what and how good are its contents.”
Yet this sermon was not published. Why it was not, we are unable to state. Subsequent events would seem to indicate, that a defence of Unitarianism, from the pulpit and the press, on a new ground, and probably the last on which it will be attempted to defend it, without expressly denying the inspiration of the Scriptures, should be made by a more experienced champion. And it has been made in the discourse now under review.
From the facts which have been detailed, and from the standing of Dr. Channing among Unitarians, we conclude that we are to regard this discourse as exhibiting the argument from moral tendency, on the Unitarian side of the question, as forcibly as we are to expect it to be exhibited. This conclusion seems to be fully warranted by the remarks of Unitarians in relation to the discourse. A correspondent of the Christian Register, writing from New York, said, “ The discourse was one of Dr. Channing's happiest and most powerful efforts ; and, though expectation had been raised to the highest, it was fully realized.” Referring to the eighth head of the discourse, he says, “ It was under this head that the preacher laid out his whole strength, and the effect was astonishing. There were statements here given, which will thrill in the bosoms of many who heard them to the last day of their lives. I can give you no just idea of them, and I will not attempt it.”* The Christian Inquirer, the religious newspaper of the Unitarians published in New York, said of the discourse, “ We are unable, did our time and limits permit, to express in sufficiently strong terms, our admiration of this profound and manly exhibition of the sentiments of Unitarians, and we are persuaded no one, who listened to the discourse with attention, but must acknowledge that, for clearness and strength of reasoning, it has been seldom exceeded by any sermon which has been delivered in our pulpits. Several of the arguments in favor of the unity of God were new and original, and the illustrations of the pernicious ten
* Christian Register of Dec. 16, 1826.