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Method of hearing sermons.—Reading books.—Writing a
Commentary on the Bible.-An approach to blasphemy.My creed.
But as I have already intimated, these misgivings were occasional and transient. I believed I had entered on a noble career of improvement. “ All persons, places and circumstances,” I said in a letter to a friend, have become my teachers; and every occurrence affords me a lesson.” And I may truly say—what has been already intimatedthat during no period of my life have I made more merely intellectual progress in a given time, than at this period. I will not undertake to sayusing the language of phrenologists—how rapidly the organ of self-esteem was developing all this while. A few facts, however, will perhaps enable the reader to form an opinion.
I was fond of uttering paradoxes, especially religious ones; such as, “ We should be both
wholly disinterested and wholly selfish.” “There is no such thing as self-denial ; the whole business of life is pleasure”—“ He that thinks most of earth, thinks most of heaven”_" He that loves himself most, loves God most.”—“Enemies are our greatest friends,"&c.
Throwing out expressions like these, may seem too trifling to mention in this place, but my object is to show how much pains I took to show my own wisdom, and introduce moral topics for conversation. For in defining the word pleasure, for example, in one of the above paradoxes, I gave it such a definition that no one would object to it. By pleasure I meant the highest happiness of the soul, present and prospective.
I was peculiarly fond of hearing discourses and reading books, which supported sentiments wholly contrary to my own; for it afforded me much gratification to refute them, mentally—sometimes in notes with my pencil. I always fancied that I could prove my own sentiments from the very sermons and books which contained the strongest arguments against them. Hearing a sermon, one day, on the eternity of future punishment, I could not help thinking and remarking, that I could prove the contrary doctrine from the minister's own concessions.
A gentleman sent me “Fuller's Calvinism and Socinianism compared.” I read it with great attention, and wrote down my objections to his views. They were numerous, but not very important, except one.
I took the ground—and thought I established it beyond the possibility of debatethat the whole work was erroneous, because the writer had begged the question in the outset. I never saw any thing more clearly, as I then thought, than this. And yet I have lately been surprised, on looking over the work, to find how differently it appears from what it formerly did ; and have thus found another proof that “what we ardently wish we soon believe.” In truth, I scarcely read a book on any subject, at that period, without finding that it confirmed me in my religious sentiments.
But the scriptures, more than all other books, to me appeared on my side of the question. How differently, thought I, do they appear, and how much more interesting, to those who have learned to study them properly and rationally! I had acquired the art of interpreting almost every thing in such a manner that it gave support to my
favorite opinions; and when I found difficulty with a passage, I only concluded that the writer might be under a little mistake. So confident was I of
the support which these writings gave to what I called rational or liberal views, that I began to think of writing a commentary on them—not so long as Scott's, but far better, and more free from bigotry! A series of circumstances, however, prevented it; for which I have great cause of thankfulness.
A person wrote to me about this time—it was one of the new light” men-in regard to a strange propensity among men to magnify Christ, and render him an object of worship, “Why,” says he, “ I can in almost or quite every instance adopt his language—and in the utmost sincerity too." And though a little startled at first, I thought upon reflection, I could do the same. My meat and drink," I said to myself, are to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work." 661 came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me."
"I have meat to eat that ye (my poor bigoted brethren) know nothing of.”
6. He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." 6. Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?"
6. He that heareth my words and believeth them, hath everlasting life.”—But I forbear; for it seems almost blasphemous to relate it. What, indeed, but the most consummate vanity
should have induced me and my correspondent to think that we could appropriate to ourselves such declarations ? What indeed but the object which we had in view, viz. to bring down the Savior of men from that height which it is perfectly obvious to plain, unprejudiced, unsophisticated common sense he claimed, even from the bosom of the Father in heaven, to the character of a mere dweller upon earth, a frail and fallible being like, ourselves—and at the same time, be it observed, to elevate ourselves, in a corresponding degree, above the majority of our fellow men! As to the miracles which Jesus wrought, or the miraculous commencement and termination of his earthly career, we said but little. It was however understood that there was a way of getting over this difficulty; either by referring it to charlatanry, or the mistake or misapprehension of the witnesses, or of the inspired writers.
After having led the reader through a long and no doubt painful maze—a forty year's journey, as it were, in error, I am now approaching a highly important,--and to me, interesting part of my history. And I cannot but think those who have followed me thus far, will have patience to go through with my narrative. But as I have already