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MY VIEWS OF REVIVALS, &c
More facts in regard to my early life.—On conscience.—A
disputatious turn.—My studies.-Character of my books and associates.—Encouraged by the “liberals."
The following extract from a letter written about this time, will show, in some measure, how I regarded revivals of religion.
“A conference of the churches was held here a short time since, and was immediately followed by a revival; but the work seems not to make very great progress. Perhaps by example, if precept has had no agency, I have been the means of saving a few souls from the rack; at the same time that I suppose they have been making progress towards heaven and happiness."
In regard to saving people “from the rack,” I must do myself the justice to observe that I had reference, more particularly, to a class of people who are “almost persuaded” to become Christians, but, as they cannot assign any day or hour
when they began to take a deep interest in religion, they remain in suspense between the world and God. My belief was that such ought to join the church at once; and that the revival doctrines were apt to discourage them from doing so, and keep them still longer in suspense. And although I cannot to this very hour, avoid sympathizing deeply with this class of the community, yet I can by no means justify the opposition of heart, which I felt to the reviral itself.
Before I go farther with my narrative, I must be allowed to advert to certain facts and events of my early life, which I have hitherto purposely omitted; but which it now appears to me, ought to be made known to the reader.
I had early discovered in myself a propensity to take things upon trust, and had as early endeavored to counteract it. In doing this, however, I had gone almost to the extreme of taking nothing upon trust; and it was frequently in my own estimation, a sufficient cause for rejecting or opposing a thing, that it was generally received. Partly in this view I disliked the sports, the levity, nay, even the innocent and healthful gayety of my own playmates; and though I sometimes joined them, my conscience almost always reproved me on account of it.
I am at a loss to determine what will be said to this by those who think we cannot err so long as we act up to the dictates of conscience; a doctrine with some people highly popular. Now although we can hardly be justified in acting contrary to her dictates, yet nothing is better proved than that conscience, for want of being properly trained or enlightened, may approve of things which are contrary to the laws of God and man; and that so far as this result is the consequence of our own neglect, we may be and often are guilty before God in doing things which conscience fully approbates.
What contributed greatly to the formation of a habit of opposing every thing which happened to be popular, was the discovery that the rest of mankind, as well as myself, were for the most part led by tradition, custom, and the current of public sentiment; and that even on the commonest subject few could give any substantial reasons for their opinions or conduct.
Thus the foundation was laid for a habit of criticising upon every object, opinion, or act which came within my sphere of observation. Gradually I became thoughtful—and not only thoughtful, but pensive, and sometimes melancholy. I had already begun to allow my mind
to expatiate on an improved state of things ; and to dwell on Utopian projects, and Utopian regions.
If a thing was generally approved, I disapproved ; if my companions were going to join a party, I had objections to it; if an individual was commended, I found something to mention as a drawback upon his general character; if a person was censured, I could find in him good traits of character, or at least could believe that they might be found ; if a book was praised, I usually found means to condemn it; if
fellow youth were cheerful and gay, (as youth commonly are) I was for this very reason grave.
Indeed I became, at length, grave constantly and habitually ; and though my habit of opposing every thing did not generally please, my gravity was regarded by the old and the middle aged as a mark of wisdom ; an error into which these two classes of the community are perpetually falling, greatly to the injury of all.
Whether in connection with all this, there was not much personal vanity, and an habitual desire of attracting attention by standing out of the ranks of the mass of mankind, perhaps the reader can determine better than myself.
As I advanced towards manhood, the habit of defending those whose character and opinions ap
peared to me to be misrepresented, grew into the habit of taking the side of sects and parties, whose principles or practice appeared to me to be misunderstood ; and I made it a rule, as I have already intimated, always to defend any party, sect, or individual thus situated, whenever there was a greater probability that in so doing I should do good, than that I should injure myself.
Sometimes when I had gone as far as justice required, my success, and perhaps a little vanity, led me to go farther, for the sake of argument or for the pleasure of victory. " Perhaps,” I
" the Methodists (or whatever sect it might be) might meet your argument thus ; going on to defend their sentiments for them as well as I could.
This is a dangerous practice; and I cannot avoid repeating the warning I have before given especially to youth, not to venture a step on such ground. Let parents, too, discourage their children from disputation for the mere pleasure of exhibiting their talents. Few practices, I say confidently, are more dangerous.
The more a sect was spoken against, the more anxious was I to know what defence they would make. Now it was that I procured such books as Hannah Adams's View of all Religions. The