« VorigeDoorgaan »
which has never changed, that a vast deal of time and labor are sacrificed to the literary whim, of making so much account of the dead languages. They are not of sufficient use to remunerate the labor they cost. The Greek, to be sure, is necessary for biblical criticism; but there are living languages, and deeply important studies enough, that have a direct connexion with practical life, to engage and exercise the mind, without wasting the energies of youth upon the dead and useless lore of past ages. During this time I paid very little attention to theological matters, and was undetermined in relation to my future course. My Preceptor was the Rev. V. H. Barber of the Episcopal Church. One evening, he informed me, that they had funds for educating a limited number of young men for the ministry. And that if I felt disposed to take orders with them, they would provide for my collegiate education. A liberal education appeared to me of great value; but my answer was, "I am a Universalist.” He answered that he knew it; but that that was a matter of no consequence. That many of their clergymen believed in the final salvation of all men; but did not think it advisable to hold forth the idea generally in the present condition of the world. That they considered it better to preach practical christianity, and not meddle with this controversy. But my mind was that if I ever preached the Gospel, I should be unwilling to suppress a doctrine, which appeared to me to unfold the very elements of christian morals and human happiness.
In the fall of 1817, I took leave of my paternal home, and journeyed to Chautauque Co., in the most western part of the State of New York. My object was to visit a brother and sister residing in that county, whom I had not seen for several years; and to find employment in some school, That was a wrong move I had no business there. That was then a very new country. Its principal villages were but just located and commenced; and new settlements were just extending into different parts of the county. Small openings and log houses, separated by extensive forests, then constituted the general scenery of that region. On my arrival, I found the Rev. S. R. Smith itinerating through that region, as a promulgator of Universalism. He was then in full vigor and prime of life; and was justly considered a man of uncommon eloquence and power. He learned my views, and suggested to me the propriety of engaging in the ministry at once. I was then very ignorant of the world, of the Bible, and of the sense given to many parts of it by Universalists. I considered myself very unqalified for preaching, as was the fact. But finally yielded to persuasion and agreed to try. This was a second misstep. I delivered a short extemporaneous discourse in presence of Br. Smith, who encouraged me to go ahead. And he immediately left the county on his way to the East. After delivering in all five discourses, to very small assemblies in that region of forests, I became fully satisfied that I was not qualified to preach the Gospel; and feeling perplexed and confounded with inexplicable difficulties, I felt compelled to abandon the premature attempt. Call that a third misstep, or let it pass.
Br. Smith has recently published a work on the early progress of Universalism in the State of New York, in which he notices this matter; and attaches an importance to it which it does not deserve. His representation is, that I preached extensively at that time, attracted great attention, and became very popular. And by abandoning the ministry, very much discouraged the friends in that region, and depressed the cause; so that when I afterwards returned to the ministry, I found it impossible to regain the confidence of Universalists; and after a few years fruitless efforts, became discouraged, and consequently renounced Universalism.* So far from all this, I attempted to preach but five times, and this at
*I have not bis work by me, but give the substance from memory.
tracted but very little notice, and never affected my popularity afterwards in the least. Indeed my preaching at that time, excited the attention of Universalists so little, that they had not contributed a single dollar to my support, nor was there any effort to do so. As stated above, Br. Smith had left the country, and has probably been misinformed on the subject. It has been publicly stated, that I became then atheistical; but all this without foundation, I do not recollect that I ever had a doubt of the existence of a God.
Having abandoned the idea of preaching, I was in the woods, without an object, and pretty much indifferent to every thing; and of course in proper condition to take advice. Accordingly, in the spring, (1818,) I contracted for a piece of wild land, took a wife, and went into the woods to clear up a farm. This was pursued till Sept. 1821. In the mean time, I had reflected much upon religion and theology; and had become zealously affected in the cause of Universalism; and re-engaged in its promulgation. I had all the time professed that doctrine; but now felt free, clear, and full of the subject. My congregations were at once full-my acquaintances were rapidly multiplied, and extended into different parts of the country. After preaching some years in that region I was solicited to move to Salisbury, Herkimer Co., where
my father used to preach to the Baptists. I did not feel as much at home in Salisbury, (although ample justice was done me,) and after two years services in that region, returned to Chautauque. This was the very place where my premature attempt to preach had deprived me of the confidence of Universalists and ruined the cause, as Br. Smith’s book has it. But he not being in that country at the time, must have been grossly misinformed. Here I had a small farm, which I cultivated at my leisure. And usually rode to my appointments, which were at most all distances within fifty miles. And sometimes I journeyed out several hundred miles. I received such compensation for my services
as my friends were disposed to give, which was sometimes liberal, not always, but on the whole, with my work at home, I was satisfied. I had often calls to settle in different societies abroad, but was well satisfied with the popularity and advantages I there enjoyed. I often challenged controversy, through the Press and otherwise; but scarcely ever succeeded in finding an antagonist. Hence I concluded my doctrine was of such clear and indisputable truth, that none dared publicly to contest it.
In the spring of 1831, I sold out my farm and moved to Jamestown, a respectable town on the out-let of Chautauque lake, where I had preached a portion of the time for many years. Here I started a periodical paper called the "Genius of Liberty.” This paper was devoted to the propagation of universalism. A large portion of it was written by the Editor, and the doctrine was thought to be vindicated with spirit and ability. An arrangement was made with the managers of a political newspaper for the printing; and in such manner, that they had their pay for the 2d vol. before the work was done. Another mistake! This arrangement proved a very unfortunate one, and a source of much perplexity and trouble. I discovered some habits prevalent among my friends there, which I had not formerly supposed to exist among them; and began to feel much inquietude and anxiety that the doctrine did not exert more reforming energy and moral power. Since that, however, I have been able to account for all those things without impeaching the influence of the doctrine at all. In the mean time, my habits here were more sedentary than usual; and I was engaged more intensely in reading, writing, and reflection on moral and religious subjects than formerly. These things combined, brought on a kind of nervous affection and depression of spirits. I do not think that I was worse dejected than sedentary men often are; but a combination of circumstances rendered the effect more visible and public. My moral sensitiveness became so acute as to fill my imagination with images of crimes and vices that had but little existence. Melancholy and mental suffering magnified the religious stupidity, apathy, and all the faults of Universalists; and spread around me a gloomy world of darkness, wrongs and crimes. About this time, I took hold of the temperance reform; lectured extensively on the subject; and felt deeply engaged in its promotion. I then considered it paramount to all other moral subjects. The Partialists all encouraged and seconded my efforts so did some Universalists, but many of them were disaffected about it, and treated me very ill. Miserable Univeršalists indeed-I am satisfied such were loose skeptics in disguise. Universalists are now generally friends to that reform. This opposition tended to increase my disaffection. Treachery, perfidy, violence and crime, filled up my meditations by day-and my dreams were haunted with forms of vice which seemed preparing to break up the foundations of society, and bring upon the world the most appalling wretchedness. I became conversant with some Presbyterians and Methodists, who manifested great affection and kindness. I had begun to suspect the utility and truth of Universalism. I read Prof. Stuart on aionios as applied to future punishment, and felt pretty much convinced! Of course was very unhappy, and often wept like a child. In relation to pecuniary matters, I was doing better than at any time before. But I had imbibed a deep impression, that Universalism was untrue and must be renounced. Many then supported Universalism, not as religion, but as an opposition to religion. And many became suspicious and cold, and even abusive. I have never condemned myself for coming out, because with such impressions, I could not have done otherwise, without believing myself guilty of wrong. It was in fact a great sacrifice to conscience. But I have regretted the circumstances which led to such result. A result fatal to my temporal interests, and a source of untold affliction and sorrow.