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Licentiousness of the mass of the people in that age may be proved; the testimony of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, which will hardly be questioned by those, who are the loudest in their complaints of the degeneracy of the present generation, when compared with our ancestors.

On the 7th of July, 1643, soon after the Westminster Assembly had convened, they presented a petition to parliament, requesting that a day of fasting might be appointed; and that steps might be immediately taken to effect a reformation in the following "particulars :"

1. "That the brutish ignorance, and palpable darkness possessing the greatest part of the people in all places of the kingdom, may be remedied, by a speedy and strict charge to all ministers, constantly to catechise all the youth and ignorant people within their parishes.

2. "That the grievous and heinous pollution of the Lord's supper, by those who are grossly ignorant and notoriously profane, may be henceforth, with all christian care and due circumspection, prevented.

3. "That the bold venting of corrupt doctrines, directly contrary to the sacred law of God, may be speedily suppressed.

4. "That the profanation of any part of the Lord's day, and the days of solemn fasting, by buying, selling, working, sporting, travelling, or neglecting of God's ordinances, may be remedied, by appointing special officers in every place, for the due

execution of all good laws and ordinances against the same.

5. "That there may be a thorough and speedy proceeding against blind guides, and scanda lous ministers; and that your wisdom would find out some way to admit into the ministry, such godly and hopeful men as have prepared themselves, and are willing thereunto; without which, there will suddenly be such a scarcity of able and faithful ministers, that it will be to little purpose to cast out such as are unable, idle, or scandalous.

6. "That the laws may be quickened against swearing and drunkenness, with which the land is filled and defiled, and under which it mourns.

7. "That some severe course be taken against fornication, adultery, and incest, which do greatly abound.

8. "That all monuments of idolatry and superstition, but more especially the whole body and practice of Popery, may be totally abolished.

9. "That justice may be executed on all delinquents, according to your religious vow and protestation to that purpose."-History of the Puritans, vol. 111. p. 60.

Such is the complaint which was made by the Westminster Assembly, of the state of religion and morals in their day. Can a more hideous description be justly given of the present state of religion and morals, either in England, or in Massachusetts ? And what are the present complaints, but stories repeated, which are more than 150 years old?

It is, however, to be observed, that the Westminster Assembly, in enumerating the vices of that age, omitted to mention the most atrocious crimes which were then prevalent, and which were as common as any in their black catalogue; namely, the crimes of publick oppression and robbery, violence and murder, which resulted from civil war, and the spirit of persecution. What vices and crimes did the Assembly mention, of a more crimson dye than these? And to what errours of opinion could they refer, more dangerous and fatal than those which led to such crimes, and which they themselves supported with all their influence, their exhortations, and their prayers? They mention "the bold venting of corrupt doctrines;" but did they not boldly vent doctrines which justified both civil war and persecution? And what doctrines can be more 66 corrupt" or more subversive of the gospel, than those which justify persecution, revenge, and murder?

But such for ages has been the melancholy blindness of Christians in general, that doctrines, which have little or no relation to Christian practice, or to the love of God or man, have been the constant topicks of contention and denunciation; while opinions, which justify the most intolerant, abusive, revengeful, and even murderous conduct, have been swallowed by wholesale, or passed over in silence.

We have now before us a sketch of the state of religion and morals, at that period to which the people of New-England have

been taught to look back, to see whence they have fallen, and how far they have degenerated. It was in the course of the half century which has now been concisely reviewed, that the first settlers of New-England emigrated from Great-Britain, and came to this country; and it was on account of the wretched state of society in England that they left their native land, exposed themselves first to the perils of the ocean, and then to the perils of a wilderness, inhabited by beasts and savages. Had the state of soci ety, of religion, and of morals in Great-Britain, been then as favourable as it now is, or half so favourable as it is at present in this country, those who first settled Massachusetts would proba bly have lived and died in England, and the settlement of this country would have been deferred to a subsequent period.

It has not been the object of the preceding remarks, to call in question the piety of the Westminster Assembly, nor the piety of the Puritans or Presbyterians of that age; but to undeceive those who have imagined, that our ancestors of that period were more enlightened or more pure than their posterity of the present time; that we may feel grateful to God for the benefits we enjoy, and that we may be led to look to the instructions and example of Christ, for purity of doctrine and practice, rather than to our ancestors of the seventeenth century.

It is very certain that the Westminster Assembly partook of "the spirit of the age,” in

which they lived; and as the spirit of war and revenge, of intolerance and persecution, was strangely interwoven with the religion of all the noted sects of that time, we must naturally expect to find, in subsequent inquiries, that the emigrants to this country were not free from errour, either in opinion, temper, or practice. The hive from which they swarmed, was polluted with atro

cious practical errours, vices and crimes, the mass was in a state of fermentation when they separated from it, and it would have been extraordinary indeed, had no taint of the general pollution adhered to them. If we may find them among the purest and most enlightened of the age in which they lived, this is as much as can be reasonably expected.


ATTEMPTS to detach an Israelite from the worship of Jehovah, and seduce him to idolatry, was, under the legal dispensation, a capital offence. It was made the duty of the tempted to give testimony against those who should endeavour to seduce them, and to be first in executing the law upon them; however nearly they might be related, however closely united with them in bonds offriendship and affection.* Not that Israel were forbidden to judge for themselves in matters of religion. Without this liberty, there could be no religion. Religion is the result of the free choice of an enlightened mind-But none were allowed to draw others from the worship of the God of Israel. The national government was a The ocracy-giving that honour to another which was due to God, was rebellion-seducing to it, was High Treason. But this was not made capital, without such evidence given of Moses' divine

*Deut. xiii. 6.

mission, as left no doubt on minds acquainted with it; and such as no rival could pretend to equal. There were also appointed ways in which God might be consulted, and answers obtained, to make plain the path of duty on difficult and pressing emergencies.

Such was the spirit of the Law -Let us now turn to the Gospel.

Under the Gospel, every man is not only called on to judge of himself what is right, but allowed to communicate his views and sentiments to others, that they may judge of their rectitude, and the evidences of their truth. If any embrace errour, the proper consequences will follow, and they must abide them-If they result from a corrupt bias, God will judge them; but man has no right to do it-Judge nothing before the time, till the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart. Much less may man presume to punish spe

+ 1 Cor. iv. 5,

culative errour-The heretick* is indeed to be rejected, after a first and second admonition-but this is not punishment-it is only withdrawing from him, and leaving him to himseif.-And this is all the excommunication the church has, on any occasion, a right to exercise-nor this, till means have been used to reclaim the erroneous, and been found unavailing. Neither do speculative errours, agreeably to this text, justify even this-errour must become practical to justify exclusion, or separation. This is as signed as the ground of rejection -knowing that he that is such is subverted and sinneth, BEING CONDEMNED OF HIMSELF. A person may mistake, and err in sentiment, and yet act sincerely, not be condemned of himself-Such must not be rejected.

The Church in past ages has acted differently-considered doctrinal errour as highly criminal, apart from the views of the erring in sentiment. For several centuries, those who ruled in the church, doomed those whom they denominated hereticks, (many of whom were Saints of the Most High) to death in its most frightful forms! and called on civil rulers to execute their decrees; and some, when so employed, thought themselves doing God service. Strange! Destroy for sentiment! and think it serving God! -Sentiment is the effect of light, real, or supposed, let into the mind. Pains and penalties carry no light in them-have not the

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* Tit. ii. 10.

+ John xvi. 2.

remotest tendency to correct errour-Strange, that it should ever have been imagined! and stranger still that Christians should resort to such measures, while professing to obey the Gospel!-That Gospel which every where enjoins a temper and conduct wholly diverse. The spirit of the Gospel is love it declares gifts, knowledge, faith, yea, even martyrdom for the honour of Christianity, vain without it!

To the truth of Christianity there is a cloud of witnesses-No impartial enquirer can doubt it. But though honest minds must believe the Gospel, they may put different constructions on Scripture; and as there is now no inspired person to teach, no URIM and THUMMIм to consult, a difference of sentiment may be expected. The best may err— They doubtless often do err Christians, enveloped in darkness, may doubt, and differ in opinion. Dare those who consider such to be their situation, censure and condemn all who differ from them? The good will put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness; looking forward to the world of light, where darkness and doubts will be no more. But, alas! how often are those, who bear the Christian name, found censuring and condemning one another; not for sinful practices, but for supposed errours in sentiment; and often on account of different views respecting matters confessedly dark and difficult, yea, mysterious! matters which

1. Cor. 13.

Col. iii. 14.

have no relation to practice! matters which those who contend about them, do not pretend to comprehend, and relative to which, the most zealous differ widely among themselves! and how many are there who wish to impose their Creeds on the Churches, and are ready to exclude from their communion, all who cannot pronounce their Shibboleths!

Christians may write summaries of their Faith, for their own use; but have no right to impose them on others, or to censure and reject those who cannot receive them. Deductions in Divinity are dangerous. We should do well to keep to the form of sound words;* and should receive, as brethren, all who so do, though they may speculate very differently from ourselves. Suppose our sentiments to be correct, (which doth not hold of some who have no jealousy of themselves) and that others mistake, and err, what injury shall we receive if we bear with them, and walk with them, in discharge of duties confessed by all? If we claim a right to judge of doctrines for ourselves, we must grant the same to our brethren.

It becomes us to search the Scriptures, and form our sentiments from them. Are there none who study them less to know the truth, than to defend systems which they have adopted? systems which have been hauded down from Ancestors, or which are commonly received as orthodox? Respecting such systems, some are afraid to doubt; yea, are ready to consider inquiry

II. Tim. i. 13.

Vol. IV. No. 7.


suspicious, if not criminal. People of this cast would have been any thing different from what they now are, had their lot been differently cast. The principle which renders them zealous for a particular sect of Protestants, would have made them equally so for Popery, Mahometanism, or Paganism-To rise above vulgar prejudice, and judge righteous judgment, judge of truth, and what is truth, by the light of reason and revelation, is a great and good, but not perhaps very common attainment. The excellent Mr. Robinson, Minister of the first settlers at Plymouth, lamented and testified against this spirit of Bigotry, which he discovered among Protestants at so early a period, and warned his dear flock against it. "I charge you before God, and his blessed angels, that you follow me no farther than I follow Christ-If God reveal any thing to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive truth by my ministry: for I am verily persuaded that the Lord hath more truth yet to break out of his word. I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who were come to a period in religion, and will go no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw: whatever part of his will our good God hath revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. And the Calvinists stick fast, where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things."

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