Imágenes de páginas

A New-England man cannot fail to be struck with the contrast to his own fortunate lot. When he thinks of the institutions under which he lives,- of the schools, in which his children may be carried forward almost without trouble to himself, from the rudiments of education to the highest fields of learning ; - of the social manners and habits of the people, which shed a genial influence over the expanding minds of the young, imparting that delicacy of taste and refinement of feeling which constitute the chief distinction of a highly improved state of society; -of the public men and civil magistrates, who have made the name of New England illustrious by their integrity and learning and eloquence wherever these qualities are held in esteem ; — of the numerous churches, the most graceful ornament of any people, where, weekly, the highest topics of human thought and interest are discussed; where childhood is taught to pray, and manhood to stand strong in faith and goodness, and old age to look onward to the renewal of its powers, and the rejoicing to give thanks, and the sorrowful to seek solace in God; when he thinks of these privileges, he will bless God in his inmost soul that he has so goodly a heritage.

We can hardly realize, we who live in the more populous parts of the country, the great superiority enjoyed by us in point of intellectual and moral advantages over territories but thinly inhabited. It is a privilege never sufficiently valued to have had our birth where the earliest influences that fall upon us favor the development of the higher faculties and affections of our nature; -- where, unlike the frontier settlements, the school-house and the church stand with ever open doors to receive us into their sanctuary, as soon as we are able to leave the nursery; where Custom, that great dictator in the concerns of men, that powerful engine for good or for evil, is generally found on the side of culture, refinement, education, in the best sense of those noble words, and throws the weight of her authority into the scale of social advancement.

Now, if we look at the situation of the extreme western states in these respects, we shall find it widely different. For, except in the larger towns, little provision can be made for the support of schools, or for the religious instruction of the people. The legislatures may have provided liberally, but it is impossible, so scattered is the population, to apply their bounty advantageously. The dwellings are so distant from each other, that if there were no other obstacle, the children cannot easily be 30 s. VOL. VIII. NO. I.



gathered into schools, or the people into religious societies. It is no uncommon thing to see a numerous family living at the distance of three or four miles from any other abode of human beings; and we recollect to have been told by an aged man, that during the year he had lived in the settlernent where he then belonged, it had been visited only once by a minister of any denomination. It is from the multiplicity of such facts that dark auguries arise.

But it is replied to every representation of this kind, “ True, these are evils, but they are evils which every day is removing. As population flows in, (and it comes like a torrent,) they are swept away. And such is the rapidity of increase, that even while you are writing out your statement, what was true when you began, ceases to be so when

finish.” We

We may admit the general correctness of this answer. We


admit that the time is not distant when these evils will cease to exist. But it will be long enough for the rising generation to become men. And, alas, what men !

But suppose these evils removed, there is still another point of contrast between their situation and our own deserving attention. We found on coming into life, and our children find, the good institutions of learning and religion established and in full operation. We had nothing to do but to enjoy the benefits of them. Not so with them. There the institutions themselves are to be founded. The work which our fathers did for us, they must do for themselves. And they must do it, too, if at all, amid the press of a thousand necessities of which we know nothing, and in opposition to the passion for gain, which there, as well as here, is mistress of the heart. Subsistence and the multiplication of physical comforts, we know, are the first demands of nature, and for a long time almost necessarily the chief concern of frontier settlers. The supply of those wants which are felt most keenly, which press hardest, which will not be put off

, engage their thoughts and energies to the exclusion of the higher wants of the mind and soul. Now, is there not reason to fear, when these things are considered, that there may not exist enough of the earnest religious spirit of our fathers in these their remote descendants, to prompt them, even when they shall have the ability, to establish and support such institutions as have been bequeathed to us ? Nay, if these were all now levelled to the dust, would there be virtue enough even here to reconstruct them on the same broad and liberal basis ?

Leaving now these general views, we would call the attention of our readers for a moment to the particular subject of religion; its state and prospects in the West. We are sorry to say that the spiritual aspect forms a melancholy contrast to the natural beauty of this fair region. The language which describes a desert, rather than that which paints a garden, befits its religious condition. It is true, and with joy we mention it, there are many souls there thirsting for divine truth ; hearts which love righteousness, which delight in worship, and which cannot be tempted to forget the law of the Lord; individuals, more or less in every settlement, who are willing to do even more than they are able for the maintenance of religious order and worship. Let them be held in honorable remembrance. But generally, it may be said without injustice, there is a sad indifference, a torpor, a coldness, such as is felt in the limbs when life is about departing. In the outward life there is exuberance, activity, enterprise, merry-making, while the inward life is dry and shrivelled. Bigotry and fanaticism are there indeed; but what are they better than indifference? Skepticism, open and concealed, is there ; but what is that better than moral death?

Now, what ought we to do as Christian philanthropists in view of this state of things ? Observation and a somewhat extensive inquiry have served to confirm the conviction long entertained, that those views of religion to which this journal is particularly devoted, are better adapted than any others to meet such a case, and to reänimate with a divine life those who are spiritually dead. We believe that there is a willingness, (not choosing a stronger term, as one more sanguine might,) a willingness on the part of many to hear those views explained and enforced. It was our lot, if we may speak of our own experience without impropriety, to preach them in several places to respectable and intelligent congregations. We preached in the steamboat as we were pursuing our course down the Ohio, “the beautiful river"; and our hearers, of every shade of belief and unbelief, were silent. We preached for a month in a village of four hundred inhabitants, and had regularly nearly one hundred hearers. We preached in a church of the Campbellites, in a much larger place, to an intelligent congregation of rational Christians — Christians, who, with their brethren of the same denomination in other places, have done much for the cause of primitive Christianity, in battering down the antiquated creeds which have stood as strong ramparts against it, in bringing all religious opinions to the ordeal of Scripture, in the zeal for Christ and goodness which they confessedly manifest, and in such blameless lives as force the acknowledgment from all who know them, that they have been with Jesus.” This sect, we repeat it, is doing much for the cause of primitive Christianity. Already the number of their churches exceeds a thousand. And they are, let it be added, in all the essential features of their faith, Unitarians. They have been diligently publishing our views without any knowledge of our numbers, our writings, our characters, or what we ourselves were doing. They have heard us generally spoken against as unworthy of the Christian name. As one of their leading elders remarked,

They had been accustomed to look on the Unitarians as a genteel sort of infidels.We are not alone in the opinion here expressed concerning this sect. A respectable clergyman of the Episcopal church, when asked whether he thought anything was to be feared from the efforts of the Catholics, replied, “ The Catholics are making great exertions, they are increasing rapidly, but the Campbellites are going before all others. They are running over the West like fire upon our prairies ! Besides the places above-mentioned, we preached several weeks in the great northern city of Illinois, to a congregation which increased regularly during the whole period of our sojourn with them; and never has it been our fortune to address a religious assembly manifesting a deeper interest in the truths delivered, or a more earnest desire that a ministry to proclaim and enforce those truths might be established amongst them. Here a society may be considered as gathered, and all that is needed to give it strength and permanency and a far-reaching influence, is an able and faithful pastor.

Our readers, we trust, will excuse these details of our personal experience. We could not in any other way convey the impressions which we were desirous they should receive. But still the question recurs, What ought we to do in view of this state of things? It is a question which we hear asked every day; a fact which shows that a strong desire is felt in this religious community to do something. What shall it be? It is perhaps to be regretted that no decided answer has yet been given to this question. A variety of modes have indeed been suggested for aiding the improvement of the religious condition of the West, and some of them partially adopted; but none seem to meet all the wants. That which has most recently been proposed to the public, and recommended with confidence by individuals whose opinions are entitled to great respect, is the establishing of a theological school on the other side of the mountains, with the view of preparing western young men for the ministry, and thus of enabling the people to supply their own spiritual wants, so far as these may be supplied by religious teachers. We are sorry to dissent from the views of the friends of this measure. But we have strong doubts whether snch an institution is wanted at the West, and whether any considerable number of young men would resort to it if it were established. If a theological school situated in the very heart of Unitarianism, in the centre of long-established societies, surrounded on every

hand by churches from which our faith has been speaking for years in its most powerful and persuasive tones to the hearts of the people, amply endowed, with a learned and devoted faculty, finds but a few young men disposed to resort to it with a view to the ministry, is it not just to conclude, that a similar institution situated where Unitarianism is but little known, where the churches of that faith are few and have had but a brief existence, and where consequently its influence on the feelings and opinions of young men has been very inconsiderable, is it not just to conclude, we ask, that an institution placed in such a condition could not flourish ? Again, we confess that we like the old-fashioned way of letting institutions of this kind grow naturally out of the circumstances of a people rather than attempting to ingraft them upon those circumstances. If the people of the West want a theological school of this description, let us see them moving in the matter ; taking measures to bring it about; raising the funds ;, erecting the buildings ; doing something, in short, themselves, and then, if they need aid from this quarter, it would be the part both of wisdom and of duty to afford it.

But these are not the chief objections. There is another which has in our estimation great weight, and which does not seem to have been sufficiently considered ; and we proceed to state it.

Whoever takes a comprehensive survey of the state of religion in this country, will see, we believe, that it is fast approaching the crisis of a remarkable change. The signs of this crisis are so manifest, that even the most dim-sighted must have observed them. The old bonds by which the various sects have been held together, it is evident, are almost worn out.

« AnteriorContinuar »