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churches they taught to regard each other as members of one great Christian fraternity - from end to end of which brotherly love should circulate, and benevolent communication go on, according as there might be lack in one place and abundance in another. And all this Christian fraternity they taught to regard itself as a vast association for benevolent and missionary ends, whilst every individual of it should consider himself personally, as well as in his associated capacity, a herald of glad tidings to man, a messenger of salvation, a steward of the mysteries of Christ.
Such a thing as a church not interested, or taking a part in Christian missions, — such a thing as a Christian who spared no sympathy for the unconverted world, or would not lend his aid to ineasures for the propagation of the faith of Christianity, was an anomaly in the Apostle's day, as it ought to be regarded an inconsistency and disgrace in our own. Every prayer that is breathed to the great Father of mankind in such a church, or from such an individual, is little better than a mockery. Every offering up of thanks to the God that has blessed, - every verbal expression of gratitude to the Saviour that has redeemed, might well fall back in reproaches upon the heart that feels no longing to share the Gospel's boundless blessings with all whom they have not reached, that feels no disposition to make a sacrifice to diffuse them through the world. A man with
in his hands to spare, and yet giving nothing to propagate Christianity! Is it not obviously a misnomer, that he should call himself by the name of Him, who, though he was rich, yet, for our sake, for that man's own sake, became poor! A church made up of members of the wealthy, the educated, the influential, and numbers besides who cannot be called poor, or ignorant, or destitute of power to make themselves felt in the world, - such a church, doing nothing, and attempting nothing, in its collective capacity, with all its resources, for building up and strengthening other churches, for the diffusion of the scriptures, for the conversion of the world, has it
substantial claim, one inay well be pardoned for asking, - to the sacred, the much abused title of a Christian church ?
A Christian church, in the true sense, is a member of the church universal, and must feel a sympathy and membership therewith. It is a part of the great body of Christ on earth, and, as such, must be active, and contribute of its ability to the edification and strength of the rest. It is an association of those who have virtually pledged themselves to imitate Christ and advance his kingdom. It is a depository of the Gospel, - not for its own exclusive benefit, but for distribution to the world. It is an assem. bly not only to hear the Word preached, but to carry it into practice, both individually and collectively. It is a band of Christian believers, united together on Christian principles and for Christian objects. It is this, if it is any. thing. Anything else has no right to the name of a Christian church. And, if such a thing should ever be, as a denomination of Christians whose churches should be characterized by indifference to missionary enterprise, whose sympathies and energies should be narrowed down to the diminutive work of supporting worship for them. selves alone, whilst the conversion of the unregenerated world should be left to the steady progress of time, and the natural expansibility of truth, — that denomination would deservedly become a by-word of reproach to all
coming ages, and the moral death to which it so care. lessly left others, would soon be visited upon
itself. Such a charge has been oftentimes brought against our own churches. Whether justly or unjustly, is a question upon the discussion of which I do not presently intend to enter. There may have been good and weighty reasons, in the circumstances of our condition, to account for our comparative inattention to mission. ary movements, It may be true, that we had a preparatory work to do, and that there were certain necessary stages to be passed through, before we could be in a position to engage largely and heartily in the propagation of the Gospel. It may be true, that we were too young and too feeble as a denomination, and compelled to work too hard to gain a hold for our principles in a community, in which an almost overwhelming majority was arrayed against them. It may be also, that the impartial inquirer would find, upon a careful investigation of facts, that we have done a good deal, — much more than at the first glance appears, - of proper missionary work. And, on the other hand, it may be true, that we have been, as a body, too indifferent and too neglectful in this important regard.
But having alluded to the interesting question of our fidelity as a denomination to our Christian duties, I can. not dismiss it without a few thoughts that have a bearing upon its answer.
For the earlier days of the Unitarian movement in this country, we have no need to be ashamed. Their record is as bright and honorable as that of any period in the history of any religious body. It is a record of conscientiousness, soundness of mind, devotion to truth, fidelity
and earnestness, on the part both of the clergy and laity on whom the burden of that movement was laid. The results accomplished, moreover, were by no means unworthy of the abilities and virtues of the actors. The progress of Unitarian principles in New England was steady and remarkable, if not so rapid as some of their more enthusiastic advocates expected, and all of their friends could have desired. Our faith was seen gradually and triumphantly gaining ground against a host of oppo
Without resorting to “extraordinary measures," without calling in the aid of excitements, - without cunningly and elaborately devised sectarian machinery, — by the simple force of sound reasoning upon the Bible, liberality of sentiment, and righteousness of life, it was seen supplanting, in one after another of the oldest parishes in New England, the authority of a more popular system of theology; till at length, through the whole circuit, from the extremity of Cape Cod to that of Cape Ann, along the very shores where the Pilgrims reared their first altars, embracing this city, once the very Zion of Orthodoxy, there remain at this hour only two or three of the most ancient churches, in which it is not securely and quietly reigning. All this was accomplished by the noble generation of Unitarians, only a scanty remnant of whose representatives survive, to animate us with their presence or to guide us by their counsels. Of those, our fathers, we can never think without gratitude, or speak without respect. Whatever neglect or deficiency is chargeable to Unitarians, - they are free from reproach. Their peculiar work was well done, their own obligations, they faithfully discharged.
Whether the history of our churches in more recent times, - for the last fifteen or twenty years, - is as honorable to those of us whose judgment is involved in its character, - is a matter that calls for our very serious reflection, - is a question that no one, I presume, will consider it so easy to settle. We have endowed, it is true, several chapels and ministers for the poor; established eight or ten missionaries in the south and west ; built up a few new churches, and kept alive a few old ones, and founded in part a theological school. These are creditable enterprises. But are they sufficient in consideration of our means ? In Boston we have been benevolent. But we are rich, -able, abundantly able to communicate freely to our brethren who are less favored in worldly and spiritual estate. But take New England through, are our churches generous ? As a denomination, are we characterized and distinguished by beneficence ? How many dwindling parishes might we not reckon amongst our number, directly around us here at home? How few new societies have been established during the last fifteen years in New England ? And in the West and South, of which we talk and hear so much, how small is the number of churches we have yet founded - how unsatisfactory the condition of some of them how soon may one tell over the names of every town and village throughout the broad sweep of those new and old settlements, in which the voices of our preachers have been heard ! And extending our view wider and still more wide, till it embraces the mighty globe on which we live, - how altogether barren of fruits that redound to our glory, is that vast field which Christ opened before his followers as the only limit to their interest and zeal !