To Samuel Greele

    “Elm-Trees,” Biddeford        10 July 1819

    My dear Sir—

    I want very much to see you, & thank you for your kindness in anticipating my wishes by furnishing me, so early after publication, with Mr. Channings Sermon, preached at the ordination of Mr. Sparks in Baltimore1—This discourse is most excellent of the kind; it is clear, full and explicit on all the great points of what has for centuries made up the code of Religion throughout Christendom—And what I have looked upon as a monstrous mass corruption from Judaism, heathenism, & the scholastic theology of the dark ages with here and there intersperced a thread or two of the religion once delivered to the Saints—and but a thread or two—I verily believe that if Jesus himself were to come again into this world, with the same ideas and knowledge he actually possessed at the time of his ascension, & to enter into most of the churches & meeting houses in different parts of Christendom where what is commonly called orthodoxey is usually preached, he would hardly suspect either the preacher or many of his hearers, could be called by his name—or were acquainted with the religion & doctrines he meant to teach when on earth—so great, in my opinion is the deviation in doctrine & mode of worship of those calling themselves by his name, from what it ought to be—I dont mean to impeach the honesty of preachers or the goodness of the hearers—I believe orthodox preachers are very honest, but very erroneous; & the people are pretty good, much better in a moral & spiritual view, than they frequently appear to make themselves when speaking of their natural & habitual states of mind; tho I have no doubt they would have been better, that is have risen higher in the scale of moral excellence, had they been taught the genuine doctrine of Unitiarianism, & practised more the morality of the Gospel—and had their minds been drawn off from their doctrines of total depravity, original sin, the Trinity, Atonement by which a notorious old sining rascal can be made holy and righteous fit for the kingdom of Heaven, by what they call Christs righteousness applied, by the holy spirit, to their souls—These doctrines, and several others growing out of them, as weeds grow on a dung hill, have greatly retarded, I might say for ages, actually obstructed the increase of knowledge in the Religion of Jesus, and prevented the increase of that heavenly temper the religion of Jesus is calculated to produce. As to the Sermon, I want to see you & spend two hours at least, in enumerating some of its good qualities—And I can now only say, It is just what it ought to be; Indeed it is a great deal better than I expected; And I expected very much—were it not that he seems to admit his belief of the Metempsycocian,2 or Pythagorean notion of a pre-existance of Jesus to his being born to Mary, or of his being begotten by Joseph his undoubted Father, I should actually set him down as a full blooded Unitarian; as [Theophilus] Lindsey, [Thomas] Belsham or Jones3 or [James] Freeman undoubtedly are—But this notion of pre-existance is an error of no great practical importance. It is like a thousand other vain conjectures all men are continually making about things they know nothing [about]—

    This discourse will become a sort of Text for christians of different denominations to oppose, explain & defend as they concieve its principles different from, similar or the same with their own.

    Self interest not only attaches us to those who promote our views or plans in life; but to those who think like ourselves, no matter what the subject is—Now as I have been preaching the same doctrine contained in this sermon for nearly forty years, tho by no means with the elegance and eloquence the preacher has, I feel myself attached to him by much stronger feelings, than while I thought he was more orthodox. The Sermon is not simply a house on a hill, but a strong Tower; and the Author must prepare for a combined attack. And I have no fears but he will defend the ground as the Governor of Gibralter did that fortress against the combined forces of nearly the whole of Europe.4 Trinitarians must beat down this discourse that is the principles of interpretation, the views of the books of the Bible as explained therein, or they must give up their cause. And as their cause is only the result of long, established errors, I expect they will yield them with obstinency.

    In the dispute with Dr. Worcester, Mr. Channing was reluctantly brought before the public;5 he had been accustomed to a peaceable, qu[i]et life; His delight was in the practice of the christian virtues; & his only wish was to make others good & happy—here he shew the christian in temper; and I have no doubt, but he will in defence of his discourse manifest the able defender of the faith. He is equal to it; he has taken impregnable ground; & appears to be animated enough for the combat.

    I examine the [Columbian] Centinal every arrival to see who has commenced the attack—And three days ago I read the Advertisement, of The contrast to Mr. Channings Sermon—by a Baptist Minister of Charleston, at the ordination of a Mr. [-----] at Lyme in connecticut—with a long note on Mr. Channings discourse.6 This I have sent for & shall have the pleasure of reading it in a day or two—I dont expect much from it—Because it is a rare thing to find a Baptist preacher of much Theological reading; or acquired knowledge of any kind.7 & I have never heard of Mr. [William] Collier’s being distinguished; tho it may be the case. And I really hope no one will engage in this battle who is not well shiel[d]ed in all the arts & science of Theological Controversy—For it appears to me it will be long; & from the grounds taken by Mr. Channing, it will be various as to the Doctrines discused, & the Topics of Argument that [will] be adopted on both sides. This sermon makes a fissure in the old mass; And many are ready with wedges & beetles to open it wider & wider—There will not be wanting those who will supply their hoops & trusses to prevent their Image from falling to pieces. I promise myself much pleasure in reading the pros, & cons. And this is very fortunate for me. I have long since bid adieu to politics & news-papers—& am much alone under the shade of my trees, & frequently need something to wake me up, & keep my spirits from flaging. And the more because I never accustomed myself to the common stimulents made use of by most sedentery men—of smoaking, snuffing, chewing, or drinking wine or ardent spirits—I therefore pray for the lively continuance of the Theological combat—

    Once more to the sermon, I am highly gratified to find your friend & Teacher disposed to do some thing like justice to poor, abused reason, so much run down by our self stiled evangelical preachers. What can be more unaccountable than to hear men of some learning, at least, who must have read Lock8 & other books on the mind & its powers, continually declaiming against human Reason? the only & very endowment, weak or strong, as they please to have it, that makes man susceptible of Religion, & capable of distinguishing Revelation from Revrie. Idiots have no reason—And who ever heard of a religious fool? Is Revelation addressed to any of the brute creation? They have no reason, & revelation is not addressed to them. Reason is the important Talent for which all must give an account of the use they make of it—be it ever so weak, we must make the most of it. It is not to be wraped in a napkin, and an excuse made that it was weak, deceptive and depraved by reason of Adams sin, any more than the sin of any intermediate ancister, from whom we are discended. When will the great body of the community think & reason correctly on their own constitutions, powers, rights and duties? In less than twenty years after the Clergy & other public Teachers shall understand them & teach them. I feel confident that a knowledge of the course of events in any nation, from the most barbarous to the most civilized & best informed, will warrant this conclusion.

    Here I was stoped by having the third number of the Christian disciple put into my hand;9 and tho I have already become tedious to my friend, I cannot leave him to his own cogitations, without saying—This work has now taken a proper & manly stand. and very much good may be counted on its becoming generally read and encouraged—There is a connection between correct thinking & rational conduct—or all preaching would be useless. And I dont know of a better mode to effect this great object, than by the frequent reviews of sermons & public discourses delivered in the accustomed ro[u]tine of Teaching either on the sabbath or other public occasions—

    I dont know exactly your taste on the principle of sermons; but your attachment to Mr. Channing is good evidence in your favour & I take the liberty to request you to read the Review in the Christian disciple, of a volume of Sermons, lately published in this country; They are the product of a Scotch Divine by the name of Chalmers10—I have read them soon after they were published; I heard them highly eulogised by some Divines of the Hopkinsian denomination11—I was certainly much amused by them. Indeed they make the finest Theological Romance I ever read—In this character they exceed Don Quixot,12 or The Thousand and one Tales of the Arabian Knights Entertainment13—And I think have a tendency to do as much, or even more hurt to true religion as taught by Jesus, than Miltons Paradise Lost.14 Which, I think is susceptible of satisfactory proof, has corrupted, or tended to establish & perpetuate old errors & corruptions in that religion, to a much greater degree than all the Deistical writers since the days of Baron Herbert of Cherbury; who is called the father of Modern deism15—but in this I may be singular—As most people delight more in songs than sound Logic—Hence many Divines will preach ten sermons from texts out of Canticles, to one from Christs Sermon on the Mount or the Epistle of James. Most people hate to work—tho they are willing to sing hymns & spiritual songs from morning to night, if they are only made to believe this is pleasing to the Deity—

    Now my friend, I will let you off—You see what you brought on yourself by an Act of civility & kindness in sending me Mr. Channings sermon—I am like a Gun that goes off, as Gunners say, on half bent—If you touch my Trigger in a theological direction I go off—and make a continued noise, tho I do no execution—

    Remember me kindly to Mrs. Sewall and her sister—I shall ever love them for their fathers sake and their own16

    With great esteem & affection I am, dear Sir, yours &c

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    FC, TFP