To [Jeremiah Barker]

    Biddeford        19 January 1813

    My dear Sir—

    Your very friendly letter of the 30th December did not reach me before this morning; but since I took it into my hand I have read it over and over again, each time with an increasing pleasure.1 The contents of it immediately carried my mind backward on the dial of Life to the winter of seventy three, or four—the time I first saw you at my fathers house, on my return home from Colledge, in the winter vacation of that year2—Your letter brought up, with considerable vividness, a conversation we then held on the great point of difference between the followers of Calvin3 & those of Arminius, which was then a subject of frequent discussion, occasioned by the late publication of Edwards on the Will,4 & some small Tracts remarking on that great, original work. And by the laws of association, our frequent meetings in company with our old friends Gilbert, Harvard, Hall & Freeman, between that first acquaintance & the time I left the county of Barnstable in the spring of 1780, have passed in review of my mind since reading your letter. I have also re-examined many of the topics of our conversations, which were often of a religious nature, & some times turned on the evidence of Revelation—sometimes on the principles of natural religion—often on philosophy & its connection with religion—on the nature of moral virtue—on the origin of natural & moral evil—on future punishment—on original sin, on the object & tendency of a book, we, about that time became acquainted with, called the Fable of the Bees5—also another called Chubbs Tracts6—the former was considered by some as athiestical—and the latter Deistical[.] About the same time we became acquaint[ted] with the strange notions, as they were called[,] of Mr. Murray about all peoples going to heaven,7 which was a topic of much of our conversation & reasoning; on this particular top[ic] you may recollect my cousen Mrs. Bacon a woman of a strong mind joined to a most benevolent heart,8 always took part, & as we thought maintained her hand with much skill in the theological Game—

    Now my friend, as I said before, all these have passed in review of my mind; and none of the scenes are later than thirty two years, & the first about forty years ago—And I must add, that I do not discover any conversation between these conversations & my present situation in life, or the temper & manner we carried on our dialogues which as far as I can recollect was with cheirfullness, and great good-nature—tho’ with respect to myself, as I took a greater latitude in my arguments against some things held sacred by the rest of our company, I was reproached for being wicked—that is as those who explained their rebukes, & I know recollect that both yourself (& our friend Harvard, who possessed more devotion than logic,) often said you thought I should, on my principles, reason away all Revealed religion—To which I well recollect my reply generally was, that in an argument I must follow where-ever reason led me, however it might cut off more or less of the system of religion as recieved by people in general—I have called our minds back to these early days of our life, & pray you to look back upon them on account of the observation I now make, viz, that I discover no sin in all this, nor can I say that any of my conversation or part I took in the various argumentations we carried on sprang from an hatred to God or holiness—I make this observation because you express a desire that I should read and examine the manuscript you lent me that I might read it & have time to mak[e] up my judgment relative to the aggravated crimes which you had committed in life, & to which you plead guilty.

    [. . . .]

    I am often amused with the divisions of faith, on which subject I am inclined to think there is a good deal of confusion in most peoples minds if not some quackery. I have heard in one sermon faith divided into, historical, evangelical, saving, Justifying & Godly faith[,] practical and Speculative faith—And at other times faith has been differently divided. Now I know of but one kind of faith; and whether, as a means of knowledge, (and in any other sen[se] I don’t see that it is good for any thing) it is applied to history, philosophy, Navigation, Agriculture or the Sciences, it is the same act of the mind produced by evidence. Whether the evidence is verbal, written or analogical, if it produces faith—that faith has the same effect[.] We may give to faith a name from the effect it produces, but still the thing is the same. By the declarations of Jesus I believe I shall be raised to life at the last day, that is, at some future time. By the declarations declarations & productions made & exhibited, in Europe, by Christopher Columbus after his return from South America, the people, or some of them, believed in the existance of another continent—And I see no difference in the nature of our faith[.] Mine relates to an event or fact to take pla[ce] in some future period of time, which we cannot yet ascertain by days, weeks, months, years or any other measure of time. Theirs related to the then actual existance of a continent lying in certain latitudes & longitudes, which could be measured so as to ascertain its distance from Europe.

    Now we may go a step farther & say if my faith produces a conformity of life and temper to the commands of Jesus, it is an effectual or saving faith, otherwise it is but a speculative or dead faith. So as to the cotemporaries of Columbus to those who in consequence of his testimony & signs entered on board his fleet, or fited out another, to sail for South America, may be said to have an effectual faith, which corresponds to the saving faith of those who practice obedience to the Laws of Jesus, by reason of their faith in his declarations & miracles.

    Because you have done some things contrary to the Law of God, I dont see that it is a legitimate conclusion, that you were not naturally good as you came out of the manufactory God had established for the continuation of the human race; or that you are not possessed of physical and moral powers equal to a punctual discharge of all the duties of Gods Law. I know of no difference between the physical & moral powers, now possessed by the descendents of Adam & Eve, & the physical and moral powers of those our progenitors before they committed their first sin represented in Genesis the eating the forbidden fruit. What was the extant of their knowledge at the time they put forth their hands & took the forbidden fruit, we do not know; nor do we certainly know whether that knowledge, be it more or less, was given them wholly by inspiration or partly by inspiration, & the residue through their senses, in the same manner we obtain the knowledge we possess. Nor are we able to de[ter]min whether mere knowledge inspired has any advantage over that acquired through the senses in enabling us to the discharge of the religious and moral duties. We do know that holy men of old committed many actions which we, who have no knowledge but what comes through the senses, hold in detestation. As to all the affairs of human conduct in society I am inclined to think knowledge, acquired in the bustle of the world, is more usefull than the same ideas would be to us were they infused into the mind by an immediate act of Deity—You are sensible this is only opinion; how far it is correct I dont know that we are possessed of any criterion by which it can be absolutely tested. You speak of a time when you were “destitute of that faith which works by love and purifies the heart”—and that during this time “you thought you were naturally good, and could obtain heaven by a strict and uniform course of moral duties.”

    My friend, I believe you are as good by nature as Adam was—This is a point on which it appears to me people take some pains to decieve themselves; and I think I can percieve they labour hardy, and practice considerable art, to bring themselves into a state of mind from whence a belief of their wickedness by nature shall rise in their mind. By attention to the progress of some christians in private and public, I am impressed with the idea that the speaker concieves himself, & wishes to make those who join him in his addresses, concieve that is we should make as great a distance as possible between us & our Creator; and that this must be affected as much or more by debasing ourselves, by applying to our nature & faculties the most odious, contemptible, & debasing epithets our language affords, as by exalting our Creator by a contrary language.

    Now, my friend, I think as we hold a certain certain rank in the creation of God, we reflect no honour upon our Creator, by applying to our natures & faculties terms, applicable to being only, in a lower grade of creation. From the perfection of a machine we argue to the skill and power of the Mechanist. Who would expect to reflect honour and praise upon a mechanic, by degrading and vilifying the work manship of his hands—And did we not come out of the hands of God the great and adorable mechanic of the Universe? And shall we expect to reflect honour and Glory back upon him by telling him that our natures are imperfect, wicked & contemptible? But you will say our nature is corrupt by sin—This is not true. Our nature is no more corrupted by sin was than was the nature of Adam, when he first came out of the hands of his Creator; but he deviated from the rational Law of his nature and so have we; but our natures are not answerable for these deviations. If you ask me how I expect to account for all the Sin and misery I see every where in the world if I dont allow of the corruption of our natures, I answer, that when those, who hold to the corruption of our natures, but contend for the perfection or holiness of Adams nature, have accounted for the Sin & misery Adam brought on himself, then it will be time enough for me to go further on this part of the argument.

    I dont say we are not sinners, or that our Sins do not bring misery upon us both here and hereafter. Tho I doubt whether there is so much Sin and misery as many suppose. I doubt whether the books, you say you have been reading, are the best to give a correct knowledge of our moral state, or our relation to & prospects of that part of our existance which commences at the Resurrection.

    Edwards wrote well on the subject of the Will tho I am inclined to think if he had been perfectly consistant with his fundamental principles, he would have been a Necessarian, & advocated the final admission of all men to a State of happiness. Newton had a good imagination & wrote pretty good letters to his wife and said many things very well on human life;9 but knows his notions of the religion of Jesus were very erroneous. [John] Bunyan was a writer of religious romances, & probably has been the means of spreading as many incorrect views of religion as the modern novel writers, have of real life. [Philip] Doddridges notes are pretty good—he has collected many facts and customs which are a help in reading the new testament, but some of his paraphraise is a miserable departure from the ideas of Jesus and the apostles—

    I read your manuscript through, and I had pleasure in reading it, because I believed you sincere, and sincerity is always lovely. You will see that your ideas and mine, on what you call the fundamental principles of the religion of Jesus, are very wide apart. You appear to me to agree generally with those who follow Calvin as far as I know his sentiments; which I confess is deficient. You agree also with Miss Hannah Moore10—and Mr. Wilberforce a considerable writer on your side of the question11—And a distinguished member of Parliament, and advocate for the abolition of Slavery—He is a very good man, but had introduced some great errors into the Religion of Jesus—or attempted to connect his errors with the system taught by Jesus—Wilberforce, however, is an honest man—a good man, but in my opinion an erroneous Christian—

    In too much hurry, for myself perhaps, I have given you such ideas as occurred to my mind in reading your very friendly letter; I have neither time to copy my letter, or correct, with attention, its composition—Such, as it is, I give it to you in Christian love, and in commemoration of the many & pleasing hours we have heretofore spent together, with an assurance, that however much we differ in our religious notions, I nevertheless consider you an honest man, and one who wishes to embrace the religion of Jesus—

    You know me too well to suppose I would say what I do not believe to be true—or that I would conceal my sentiments thro an apprehension that, if known, they might make me unpopular. I always was fond of theological discussions, & now, when I can get a little time from the immediate duties of my office I catch up some book on religious subjects & read it with delight; & as often as I fall in company with those of a like disposition for conversation on these topics I endeavour to improve. I dont know that I have changed my sentiments on religious subjects for the last thirty five years—I think I have improved on those I adopted about the Year 1775—or 6. I gained much by reading Dr. Priestleys works—Mr. Lindseys12 Mr. Belshams.13 Dr. [David] Hartley. The Theological Respository14 & some other smaller Tracts—

    The general result of my reading is—that Human nature is perfect in the grade of Creation where the Deity placed it. That he loves all his works & man is the chief here below. The natural & moral worlds are under Gods Government by general Laws. That man is an highly improveable creature by education—tho he often commits sins—that much of the unhappiness in this world arises from ignorance, & a small part only from malice [—] that God has at divers times revealed his will to man, & generally through his chosen people, the Jews. That the Revelation by Jesus is the most perfect, clear & universal use to man in every state.

    It is the duty of all men to read & adopt the Christian religion; And as Christ instituted a support to commemorate himself & his religion, it is a duty of all those who believe in him, that is, his religion, to manifest their belief, by joining at this supper. I believe a man may be a Christian & yet have many erroneous notions connected with the facts and doctrines which constitute the genuine religion of Jesus. Nor do I concieve it to be correct christian behavior to denominate a man an infidel because he does not exactly come up to what I take to be the fundamental principles deduceable from the facts contained in the New Testament. Jehovah is the Creator of all things—He is God—One God—one person and there is not other—I do not believe any thing about three persons in the Godhead each equal to the other. It is not a Scripture doctrine. It is polytheism; and ought to be charged as such on those who say they believe it; were it not for their ignorance & sincerity.

    Jesus Christ I believe was a man as you and I are, like unto us & the rest of the human race—He was approved & highly favoured by God—and from him recieved power & knowledge to enable him to preach and do whatever is recorded of him in the new-Testament. Faith in him—is faith in what he did & taught—that is in his religion—a sincere belief of this is that faith which works by love & purified the heart.

    I do not find what Theologians call the doctrine of the Atonement, in the bible; & consequently do not consider it any part of the religion taught by Jesus. Original Sin had its origin some time after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, & consequently it ought not to be charged on his religion.

    I am inclined to the belief that the christian religion contains a principle that will operate to the purification of all who come to a knowledge of it, & finally introduce them to final happiness. This seems to result from the idea of Christ being the head of a mediatorial Kingdom which is to be given up to God the Father of All, when all sin or opposition is put down—Of this, however, my ideas are yet imperfect, & I am daily seeking light and knowledge—We are short sighted creatures, and the most knowing can see but a little way into the providence of an Infinite Creator, who is carrying on his works by General Laws; But it is our duty to acquire as much knowledge as we can—I know of nothing too sacred to be looked into and examined, if we can make it a subject of knowledge—

    As to miricles I am satisfied that every candid, well disposed man having given that attention to them the subject deserves, will be convinced of the truth of those in the Old and New Testament. I don’t know that I ever had a doubt of them; tho from my first begining to read books on the evidences of Religion I have had reason to question the propriety of many positions in the commonly recieved system of Religion—& still think they are no part of what Moses, the Prophets[,] Jesus or his apostles taught.

    Much is said about the holy Ghost as making one of the three persons in what is called the adorable Trinity. Trinity is not a scripture term. And I dont find any thing in the old or new Testament that will justify a belief that the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God, is a person or being in any sense distinct from God or Jehovah—When any thing is done by the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God, it means it is done by God—Gods spirit, is Gods power, influence, working[,] effecting &c &c—I am some times shocked to hear a supposed dialogue held, some ages before the creation of our world, between God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Ghost, about a difficulty God the Father seems, according to the view of the preacher, to have got into at Adams fall. God demands the everlasting punishment of the human race for the breach of his Law by Adam their federal head; This appears to strike all heaven with horror & amaisment, & after a dreadfull pause, God the Son comes around & proposes to suffer in the stead of Guilty man—He is represented as saying to God the Father, I am your equal & my suffering, tho for a short time, will be equal to the suffering of the whole posterity of Adam, who are finite creatures, throughout eternity; and by leting your vengeance fall on me justice will be done & the honour of your Laws be vindicated. Then God the Holy Ghost steps in and offers his services & some how or other is made a sort of medium whereby the benefit of the General pardon obtained for Guilty man is to be communicated to the individuals for whom it was from all eternity predestinated. These two or three ideas I have heard from the pulpet worked up into a discourse of more than half an hour. I cant say absolutely that all the suppositions may not have taken place; but I may say I find nothing in the Scriptures to justify any part of it. And permit me to say according as I read the Scriptures & have been taught to reason on religious subjects; and according to what I concieve honourable of God & his providence over the world, there is nothing among the fables of Greece, or the cruelties of the Jugonaut in the East,15 more dreadfully extravagant than the views of Religion I have detailed—And I am certain my representation is short of what I have several times heard from the pulpet.

    From the general tenor of your manuscript I am led to conclude that you consider the new birth, or the being born again—or the regeneration—and being born of Godbeing born of the spirit &c to be a change in a mans heart effected in some unknown manner, by the holy Ghost, and independent of the ordinary means of producing a change of moral character simply by instruction and education; And that no human education or instruction can of itself by acting on the mind produce that change of character, denominated regeneration, or having a new heart in scripture—In this I think you err—I do not say that the Deity cannot, produce a moral change in the heart without any ordinary means of instruction. But I never yet met with the person who could give me evidence of his or her heart being thus changed by immediate act of Gods spirit independent of secondary causes—nor do I believe such a case has ever yet existed. Since Gods general providence & the Gospel afford abundant means of for the repentance & reformation of sinners, I can see no more reason why God should, by his immediate Spirit & power, effect such a change in the hearts of men, than that he should now produce or create men & women, in the same manner, by his power & Spirit by working common earth into human bodies, & then breath into them the breath of life, that thereby they may become living souls.

    God having established regular means by which ends may be brought about for the good of his creatures, they yielding the necessary labour on their part, we ought not to expect, those ends to be obtained in any extraordinary mode. Examine the natural world, and do we not find that means are adapted to ends; and that those ends can only be effected by employing the proper means.

    The world is Gods book, and by attentive study ourselves, & calling to aid the knowledge of those who have gone before us in this study, we may learn a considerable portion of our duty to ourselves and others; and we may be satisfied that a discharge of these duties will always [be] agreeable to the Deity; and if this be true, then it will follow that a neglect of these duties must be contrary to his will & incur his displeasure.

    Why do we expect God to change our hearts by an extraordinary act of his spirit and power, se[e]ing we do not suffer ourselves to indulge a similar expectation with regard to those things that are necessary for our daily support? We study most attentively every part of the process of vegitation, and are carefull to omit nothing that we can do from breaking up the Ground to the time of ingathering; & having executed every part of the process we have no doubt, but we shall reap in due season the reward of our labour—

    Now an attentive examination of the powers and faculties & capacities of the human mind, or in one word, our moral constitution will satisfy every reasonable man that this part of Gods creation is subject to General Laws, like the natural world, & that means are in the course of providence, adapted to ends in this as in the other, and experience will tell us, if we desire the one we must employ the other—And he who makes use of all the means afforded him in the Gospel to effect a change of heart will be as sure of obtaining his desired end, as those who make use of the proper means to raise a crop of wheat or corn are of their success—And let me ask what can reasonable man desire more than this?

    In reading the Scriptures we must guard against spiritualizing too much, as well as against taking everything in its natural sense; and I suspect more injury has been done to religion by an excess in the former than in the latter. By spiritualizing too much and not attending enough to the manners customs & history of the Jews a considerable part of the new testament is made the source of innumerable errors—And perhaps none more than the particular subject we are now considering—I request your attention a moment to the conversation between Jesus & Nichodemus.16 I cannot think Jesus had reference to any thing more than a moral change of character, when he told Nichodemus he must be born again. And I believe with some Divines on this subject, that Jesus refered to a well known phraise among the Jews, that was applied to an heathen when he had been proselited & admited into the Jewish church, by being washed, or baptized, & circumcised, such an one was said to be born again—Therefore Nichodemus being a Jew by birth was at a loss how the term could be applied to him, because the ceremonies that externally changed a heathen to a Jew, could not be performed on him—not adverting to the nature of the religion of Jews, which consisted of applying new motives to the mind, thereby to produce a change in the heart—

    I can hardly concieve how it should have happened that so many have thought the motives presented to the mind by the religion of Jesus should be inadequate to the effecting his great object—Repentance & reformation—

    Tho my letter may be thought too long, without adding to it; yet as I am conversing with an absent friend I pray him to indulge me in another paragraph—You cannot but have observed that as I admit a person to be a christian tho he may take in his head, & believe many positions, as part of his religion, which in fact, Jesus never taught, so my charity embraces at least all those, as Christians, whose creed includes the facts and precepts of the New Testament—however erroneous many of his inferences from notorious facts or clear doctrines, may be. The christian religion is made up of facts, precepts, and doctrines narrated in pretty clear and simple language—the belief of which has a natural tendency to make men good in every department of life—Now, with these the catholics have mixed many other facts, precepts and doctrines as parts of the religion of Jesus—some of which the Protestants loped off at the reformation, but retained others—Those who seperated at different times from the Church of England cut of[f] others of those excrescences introduced by the mother church of Rome; & so, from time to time, the Sectarians, as those who seperated from a larger body, are called, have been paring down the great mass of errors attached at different times, & by different persons, churches & congregations, to the simply system of Jesus—And I believe the modern Unitarian come nearer to a belief of those facts and doctrines which Jesus considers as his religion than any other denomination or sect whatever—I therefore am of opinion that every denomination contains the essence of the religion of Jesus in their creeds—And whatever they include more than this I look upon as an error—Hence I dont call a Trinitarian, a polytheist, or an infidel, but an erroneous christian—one, who has associated with his christian creed, many propositions that christ or his apostles never taught or expects we shall now believe.17 Hence too as they may all be serious & honest, in their belief, I have no scruple in joining with them in their acts of worship—as far as I can without giving an express sanction to what I believe not to be true—

    Hence too you may infer that I deem much of the conduct of people towards their pastors as censurable; Because a preacher does not think just as I do, that is, draw the same inferences from facts recorded in the Bible that I do. It is no just ground for me to withdraw myself from his congregation; or for him to excommunicate me from the society. He is still my Teacher, & I am his hearer—we mutually differ from each other, & this difference is the quantity mutually [charged?] on the other as matter of error & we ought to discuss the subject with mutual good will & desire to find out the truth & unite in that. Certainly no two persons bearing the name of Christ, now a days, can differ more than Christ did from his disciples, yet he bore with something more than simple ignorance—And as to Judas, Christ gave the bread & wine to him as bad as he was—He reproved him as he did Peter, but did not excommunicate them. It has always appeared to me that these two facts afforded a lesson & example of Tolerance, to all who bore his name, of greater importance than is ever allowed to them.

    * * *

    FC (incomplete?), TFP. The recipient is identified by his letter to GT dated 30 December 1812 (TFP), to which this is the response.