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The Executive Committee of the American Unitarian Association have been induced to publish this as one of their series of tracts, by a conviction that the subject discussed is highly important, and the manner in which it is here treated cannot fail “ to promote the interests of pure Christianity throughout our country."
This tract was first published in July, 1926, and the first annual meeting of the Amer. Unit.' Assoc. to which reference is made on the 4th page, was held in the preceding May.
PRINTED BY I. R. BUTTS....BOSTON.
To the Executive Committee of the
AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION.
Debarred, as I am at present, from the exercises of the pulpit, by the feeble state of my health, and still solicitous to do what I may for the sacred cause to which I am dedicated, I would ask for permission, through you, to address a few thoughts to the members of your Association, upon the principles of the foreign missionary enterprise. There have long been, and still are, as I think, both great vagueness, and great extravagance of language upon this subject, alike among the friends, and the opposers, of the cause of foreign missions. Some of our Orthodox brethren have taken the ground, that all the heathen, merely as such, are condemned to endless, and to irremediable misery, unless indeed they shall be converted to Christianity ; a doctrine from which Unitarians turn with horror; and others of them, in advocating the enterprise, in their care to use terms less objectionable, have employed those only, which are too indefinite to bring home a strong sense of its obligation to any mind, which was not previously disposed to engage in it. And most Unitarians, resting on the prin
ciples, that men will be judged according to what they have, and not according to what they have not ; and that, when God will have any section of the heathen world to be enlightened by Christianity, he will himself indicate his purpose, and provide the means for its accomplishment, have either thought but little" upon the subject, or have waited for very distinct instructions respecting their duty in the service. A new era, however, seems now to have begun among Unitarians, on the question of the duty of Christians to unite in the work of extending the knowledge, and the influences of our religion. The primary objects for which your Association was formed, I know, were, “to diffuse the knowledge, and to promote the interests, of pure christianity throughout our country.” But at the annual meeting of the Association, a resolution was unanimously passed, “ that this Association views with high gratification the prospect, which is opened of a more extended mutual acquaintance, and cooperation, among Unitarian Christians throughout the world.” This shows that your thoughts have been directed to the situation of other lands, and the extent and activity of your operations recommended an address to you, in preference to any other mode of communicating my views to those whom I am desirous to reach. I hope, therefore, that, as my attention has been for some time employed on this subject, I may, without exposure to the imputation of arrogance, call the attention of Unitarian Christians among us to the general, – the original question, in regard to foreign missions. This is a question, which, I think, has not yet obtained the attention, which it claims from us; and a fair and full consideration of
which, it seems to me, can hardly fail to bring Christians of every name, to a cordial cooperation in every well devised scheme, for the greatest possible extension of the privileges, and the blessings of Christianity.
Allow me, then, to propose to the members of the · American Unitarian Association, and to all Unitarian Christians, the inquiries, – the missionary spirit, what is it? what are its principles? Are they, or are they not, among the essential principles of our religion? Are they, or are they not, the principles by which our Lord and his apostles were actuated? Does the cause, or does it not, demand the sympathy, the earnestness, and the aid of every Christian?
I am aware that there are those, and they are probably not few, who will not at once be disposed to view the missionary enterprise, as we now see it, as essentially the very enterprise of our Lord and his apostles. I know, too, that there are those who consider the missionary spirit, as often as they hear of it, but as one of the many forms which an ungoverned religious enthusiasm assumes, and that there are those also, who are accustomed to view it even more unfavorably; and but as one of the forms, which are assumed by ambition, or by avarice, for mere party, selfish, or worldly objects. There are those, who will meet our first suggestion of this subject with the inquiries, “ have not the heathen as good a right to their religion, as you have to yours? Is not their religion as dear to them, as yours is to you? Are they not as sincere believers as you are; and will not God accept them in their sincerity ?” We shall be asked, “what injury results to you from the faith, or practices of the heathen world? Or, who has commisVOL. I.
sioned you to quench the fire of their sacrifices, and to overthrow their altars? Think you, that they will be cast out from the presence and favor of God, in the life to come, because they know not him, of whom they have never heard; or that, at the bar of heaven they will be tried by a law, which they have never had an opportunity to know? Are they not as happy in their faith as you are in yours; and, if God intends their conversion to Christianity, will he not himself bring them to the faith of the gospel?”
These are inquiries which are abroad, and which are to be fairly met. They involve objections to the missionary cause, which ought to be fairly answered. They may be, and they are, proposed by mere cavillers; by men who care not for religion in any form; and who would advocate, or oppose anything, by which they may either justify their cwn irreligion, or thwart and vex those, who, they think, are mere pretenders to more religion than they have themselves. But they are made, too, by men, whom they restrain from sympathy in the missionary cause, only because it has not been viewed by them in all its bearings, and obligations. They are made by men, who have been disgusted with the cause, or at least have been rendered averse from it, by the overcharged statements that have been made in defence of it; by the injudicious manner in which it has often been conducted; by the means which have been employed in its support; by the spirit and manner of some of its agents; and, by what has been thought to be the waste of treasure that has been made, in most ostentatiously doing nothing. Let us then meet these inquiries, as the objections of fair minds; and answer them, by an