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Moral Influence, and Concluding Remarks.
REV. AND DEAR BROTHER, In taking leave of this subject, I think it not improper to offer a few remarks upon the moral influence of the two systems. It will readily be conceded that truth has a more salutary influence than error.
That system which has the best influence upon society, must have a higher claim to our faith than any other theory. The gospel is designed to save sinners. Christ visited the earth to "save his people from their sins.” And this salvation is effected by rendering them virtuous and holy. Since virtue and happiness are inseparably connected, that system which is the most productive of virtue, best answers the purpose for which the gospel was given, and consequently is the most likely to be the truth. These remarks will strike your mind as self-evident truths. Before inquiring into the moral influence of the two systems, two things will be premised. 1. Doctrinal views do not have so great an influence upon the morals of society, as most people imagine. There may be many causes which counteract the natural tendency of a doctrine. The natural disposition of the person may, in a great measure, destroy the legitimate influence of a system. “The doctrine may dwell in the head more than in the heart. It may be believed in theory, but not reduced to practice.”* So that upon the whole, theoretical divinity does not produce so great an effect upon morals, as we might at first imagine.
* See a Sermon on the subject of this controversy, by Rev. Edward Turner,
2. Doetrines have different influences upon different persons. When a man by his own study and reflection, comes understandingly into any doctrine, however fatal its natural tendency may be, it will not be very likely to corrupt bis morals. If any inquiring mind in search of truth, should at last settle down in Atheism, and embrace this sentiment, in an understanding manner, his morals might remain as they were when he was a believer in divine revelation. His knowledge of the nature of things would induce him to be honest and upright in his dealings with mankind. But let him proclaim this doctrine to the vulgar, who would take it on trust, and defend it with arguments which he had put into their mouths, and it would be likely to have a very different effect. Though they might believe it as firmly as their master, and even might have less doubts upon the subject than he, still it would naturally corrupt the one, more than the other. So a man who comes understandingly into a belief of your system, may continue to be exemplary in virtue. The refinement and elevation of mind, which he may have acquired in search of truth, may continue to influence his conduct, and preserve hinn from falling into sin. But let this doctrine be taught to the public at large, and it will have a different influence. Upon men of less study and reflection, it will be left to have its natural influence, and so will tend to weaken their sense of accountability to God. But upon men of more study and refinement, the deleterious effects of this doctrine are neutralized by the more exalted sentiments of their natures ; and if their sense of accountability is weakened by this theory, still that reflection and study, which led to its embrace, will have refined the mind; and this mental refinement will exert an influence over the man in a considerable degree, and so keep the man moral. Though there may be exceptions to this, as all general rules, still I am per
suaded that what I have stated will hold good in most
To speak of the moral influence of your system, is a subject of a delicate nature. This consideration almost inclines me to omit this part of the subject. But there is one consideration which induces me to believe that I can treat upon this part of the subject, without giving offence. The writer of these Letters, with others, published, a few years ago, his belief in the immoral tendency of your system, and although at first you were a little dissatisfied, still an assurance on our part, that we regarded you with Christian fellowship, was "fully satisfactory” to you, and induced you to "reciprocate Christian feelings and fellowship."* Since an assurance of our fellowship was all that was required at that time, we presume that the same will be fully satisfactory at this. From the circumstances alluded to above, I feel fully assured that I can speak freely of the immoral influence of your system, without giving any offence, when I assure you that I do not intend this as a withdrawal of fellowship
We have several times, in the course of the Letters, mentioned the immoral tendency of your system and some of your arguments. You maintain that all men are duly punished in this world. Now if this be the case, then sin punishes itself sufficiently, without the intervention of any person or power. Some men commit sin, and are not punished by any human law; and as you maintain that these persons, as well as others, are sufficiently punished in this state, it follows that a punishment, amply sufficient, grows necessarily out of every act of transgression, and so punishes men to the full amount of their deserts, without the interference of the civil arm. This grows directly out of your views, and is what you frequently contend for. Now if sin punishes itself sufficiently, then there is no need of any human laws; nay, human laws are only engines of cruelty, for they punish those who have been sufficiently punished already. Since human laws, on your system, are cruel and unjust, they ought to be repealed. No good citizen can countenance a law which inflicts a punishment upon the innocent, or, which is the same thing, upon those who are duly punished already. Your system aims a death-blow at the very foundation of all law, and consequently, of all order. It saps the very foundation of all institutions, and if it were reduced to practice, would introduce a state of general anarchy and confusion. This is the fatal, but legitimate tendency of your scheme, if reduced to practice.
* See Christian Repository, Vol. III. p. 165. See also the Minutes of the Southern Association for June and Dec. 1823,
But while your system has this fatal tendency, nothing of the kind can be charged upon our system. I very much doubt whether you can lay your hand upon your heart, and say in the presence of your Maker, that you believe that a future retribution corrupts the morals of society. But if your system has any salutary influence, ours has all its advantages, and others superadded. You say, that virtue is rewarded in this world; we believe in all the reward which is enjoyed in this world, and also in an additional reward hereafter. And will increasing the reward make people less virtuous ? No; the reward will be greater, the motive more powerful, and consequently will be more likely to stimulate to virtue. Our system not only exhibits a greater incentive to virtue, than yours, but it lays a greater restraint upon vice. Your doctrine tells the villain who is plot. ting the assassination of his fellow creatures, that if he falls in his attempt, superlative glory will be his immediate portion; ours tells him, that if he loses his life in such a horrid attempt, he will experience a state of correction and chastisement. Armed with your system,
might not the robber go forth with composure, and say to himself, I am sinning, it is true, but if I succeed I shall obtain a fortune; and if I lose my life in the attempt, I shall go in an instant to the enjoyment of heaven? In either case I shall be a gainer, he might very naturally say, therefore I will embark immediately in this bold adventure. I do not mean to signify that a belief in your system will make every man a robber. But let a person who is meditating upon this subject, and who has weighed all the other motives which have any bearing upon the point, and finds his mind in a state of equilibrium-I say, let such a person, under these circumstances, take your system into the account, and I will submit it to the judgment of mankind to determine, whether it would not encourage, rather than dissuade him from his bold adventure. Suppose a person to be in a state of trouble, would he not have an inducement to put a period to his own existence? Might he not say, and say with speciousness, that God required nothing of him but what would promote his own happiness, and by committing suicide, he might exchange the troubles of earth for the joys of heaven? I will appeal to reason to determine which system would be likely to have the most restraint upon a person who was upon a poize between virtue and crime.
You, sir, embrace the gospel in opposition to infidelity. You consider the gospel as an invaluable treasure, thank God for this great gift, and pray that the religion of Jesus may become universal. But if your system be the gospel, how is it preferable to infidelity ? What motive to virtue, or what restraint upon vice does your system contain, which is not found in some systems of Deism ? How can you invite an unbeliever to embrace the gospel ? Or what excellency does your system contain more than his ? You believe that the gospel is valuable only as it makes men virtuous. Now suppose