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Self-Dedication to God.—Study of certain books.—Imbibed
the notion of human perfectibility.—Rejected the doctrine of endless punishment.-My cowardice.-Duplicity.-Effects of error on my moral character.
Months and years passed away, and with them the fervor of that confidence in God which I had been accustomed to cherish. I found myself relapsing into the habit of regarding both public and private worship as matters of form merely-praying and praising, and hearing, as though I prayed, and praised, and heard notand of indulging myself to the full extent in speculating on the preacher—his style, manner, doctrine, motives ;—and the motives, manners, and character of the hearers. In a word, I became habituated to seeing all other's faults,” without feeling “my own.”
But in the midst of this career, I wag suddenly arrested ;-—I can hardly tell how. The lowering heavens seemed to gather blackness around me, and
in the midst of gloom mixed with terror, I was providentially directed to the famous work of Dr. Doddridge, entitled, the “Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.” I read it with avidity, and it inspired me with new hopes. It made me feel that I was not yet lost, but that something could be done. Still I am not aware that it led me to feel, in any great degree, my utter helplessness, without divine aid. On the contrary, I am not certain but I was inclined, from this time, to trust more strongly in an arm of flesh,' than ever.
But from repeated perusal of Dr. Doddridge's “ Examples of Self-Dedication,” or “Solemn form of renewing our covenant with God,” I was at last led to regard it as my own duty to attempt something of the kind. A day and spot were fixed upon; pen, ink, and a form were prepared, and nothing remained but to affix my name to the instrument.
The day appointed was the Sabbath ; the spot a sequestered bluff, overlooking, at a distance, a humble parish church, surrounded by a few farmers' houses ; the precise hour, the setting of the
And what rendered the romance, (for there was much of romance blended with the rest,) still more romantic, it was one of the most beautiful October evenings, which the world ever beheld.
With my paper, ink, &c., before me, I was at the spot, seeking, as I believed, divine aid in my undertaking, during the last hour of the sun,-at the termination of which, I solemnly affixed my name to the instrument."
In this instrument I had taken so much pains to guard against future heresy, that I verily think the measure tended to defeat one of the purposes for which it was made. The language was very strong. The pledge to invoke Father, Son, and Spirit, in every instance of morning and evening worship as long as I should live, had a very sinuglar effect. It produced a re-action. That this would have been the result on other minds is not certain; but in my own case, with the ghosts of departed” skepticism hovering about me, this was the undoubted effect. It led me to reflect on my failures, and at the same time, almost always, to investigate the doctrine which it involved. And at length when by accident or forgetfulness the pledge was violated, it led me, as it were, to wish, secretly, I hardly know why, that the doctrine of the Trinity were not well substantiated. Thus does man, feeble as he is, vainly attempt to lower the demands of his Creator; and, to avoid punishment, works himself into the belief that he has committed no crime! For, “what ardently we wish, we soon believe.”
During all this time, I was much employed, in various ways, in attempting to improve the condition of the young. In directing my attention to those means and facilities for effecting my purposes, which lay within my reach, several very interesting works on education fell in my way, and among others, some of the French writers, on Physiology, such as Magendie and Richerand. The moral views of these writers, so far as they can be inferred from physical doctrines, were borrowed from Kant and other writers of the same school; and though I little understood either the one or the other, yet I flattered myself I knew how to appreciate both. The only periodical in this country, which was devoted to the subject of education, and which had just at this time made its appearance, favored as I thought the same views; and whatever may have been the real intention of the writer, many doctrines there advanced, seemed to me to inculcate such views of primal purity and innocence, and of the possible perfection of humanity in individuals, as well as in the mass of society, as were at variance with evangelical religious sentiments.
To the observer of human nature, such as it is, (whether viewed in the light of common sense or Revelation,) it is almost unnecessary to say which way my speculative mind inclined.
The existence of no object under the full blaze of a meridian sun appeared to me more clearly established than the perfectibility” of human nature, could we subject that nature from the earliest moments to appropriate influences. From the
perfectibility of the infantile individual, I proceeded by easy marches to that of the whole race of infants; from that of infants to that of adults in some golden period of the world, (and at my age, and with such views, the golden age would of course be set in the future,) when schools and churches, and alms houses, and prisons, and penitentiaries should become what they ought to be places of moral and physical reformation, and not of increasing preparation for destruction. From the doctrine of perfectibility on earth, I proceeded at length to that of general or universal perfection beyond the grave. “What shall we think,” I used to say, “of the Governor of worlds infinite, who cannot carry the reforming process infinitely farther than the petty governors of a world like this?” “Stand by now, ye sage proclaimers of the doctrine of endless punishment,” thought I, “for I am a little wiser, if not “holier,' than to believe your dogmas.”
It was forgotten that every plan for human improvement, comes too late for the generation of