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Salisbury, N. Y., Oct. 10th, 1848.
Having a few moments’ leisure, I have thought to employ them in a brief correspondence. Some of the readers of the Univercoelum already know that I am absent from the city on a lecturing tour. Although the object was to advocate an important political Reform, I have nevertheless had opportunity to observe the Spiritual tendencies in the region visited. Independence of all sectarian bias, has prepared me for the better consideration and arrangement of what elements, in the religious world, I have discovered in process of change and development.
On the first Sabbath after my arrival in the interior of the State, I was invited to speak in Rev. Mr. Scofield’s church at Hamilton. It was not inquired to what sect I belonged, for I was known to be a reformer; and the attention which was accorded me by these unsectarian people, who are nevertheless esteemed Orthodox, was flattering to one who has been marked as unsound, by a professed liberal and proscribed sect. The truth is, that there is a feeling among the noble hearted of all names, that this unbrotherly strife of sects is anything but christian; and that after all, he who has the spirit and does the work of a Christian, is most Christ-like. In this vicinity there are a number of free Churches, where reformers of all sects, and of no sect, assemble to worship, and hear the Gospel of Reform. Of course it does not essentially interest us to inquire, to what particular division they may have belonged, it is enough to know, that they are zealously laboring in unison for the great cause of human advancement.
It was found not inconsistent with our object to be present at the Christian Convention, at Canastota, Here were assembled some most earnest and advanced minds, to take into consideration the possibility of establishing a Christian union. The opinion seemed to prevail that in order to have union, it was necessary to have entire toleration. Resolutions were passed to this effect; also, that ministers might be ordained or chosen by the members, while any member had the right to administer the sacrament, or any other ordinance in which it is proper for an Elder to officiate.
It was gratifying to listen to the spirited debates which were excited by these and other resolutions. There were two or three who brought with them a portion of their love of Sect and forms: but they appeared like dwarfed minds, compared with those who unfettered, stood up manfully for liberty and truth. Here was Wm. Goodell, whose acquaintance would be interesting to any reformer. Linden King had come up from the depths of sectarism, to breathe an atmosphere of love and freedom; as well as his Son, who is early making the most rapid strides in spiritual advancement. Here was also the enthusiastic Pryne, whose whole soul seems to war with clerical assumption and domination. Here were other earnest men, from different parts of the State, and the blows which they dealt, against the hydra-headed monster, were neither powerless nor misdirected. The eloquence with which they plead the cause of oppressed and down-trodden humanity, bleeding under the severance of all brotherly ties, through mere sectarian prejudice, is seldom exceeded. For myself, there was much to rejoice at in the signs of progress here evinced, and in the manner with which every reference to the great ideas of the common brotherhood were received. Thus while those preferring exclusive claim to these ideas, are treading the backward road of forms and creeds, and sundering ties on earth they believe will be reunited in heaven, true men are coming from the precincts of every denomination, whose love of Christ is greater than of a Church, whose devotion to humanity is greater than their reverence for a creed. That their professions of liberality were not simply formal, may be inferred from the fact that Mr. Van Amridge and myself, were invited to take part in their deliberations, and that what we had to say, was listened to with earnest attention.
That they are yet prepared for a general movement toward a better organization, and a more spiritual union, may be questioned ; but the indifference of sectarian establishments to every form of oppression, and to all needful reforms ; (especially, the subject of human bondage,) has opened the eyes of those who respect the rights of man, to the enormous evils which have their origin and end in this devotion to party and strife for denominational supremacy. I ought to remark, also, that among the more advanced there are some differences of opinion with regard to what constitutes a Church; some regarding the church as a human, and others as a divine organization. Of the latter class, is Gerrit Smith, and there is a Church at Peterboro’, conducted in conformity to these views, and there are several others in the state, somewhat different from what are calledJree churches. In order that you may the better understand the character of these bodies, I will give you a synopsis of the basis of the Church at Peterboro’, the form which I happen to have before me. It is prefaced with a beautiful motto from D’Aubigne. “In the beginning of the Gospel, whosoever had received the Spirit of Christ, was esteemed a member of the Church.”
You may be surprised to learn that after all, they have a Creed; but it is, as Br. Grosh would say, a very small one; nay, it is a very large one; so comprehensive that all can be encircled in its embrace. I will not give it entire ; yet this is the Spirit of the whole. We believe that the Church of Christ on earth, is composed of all the Christians on earth, and that the Church of any location is composed of all the Christians in that location; and that members can neither be voted into Christ’s Church, nor out of it.”
Such is the Catholic Spirit under which they meet; and it is unnecessary to say that freedom and comparative harmony are the result. Being released from the duty of inquisitors, they cheerfully perform the duties of members, and so far from squaring their opinions with an abstract formula, they feel free to express their peculiar views on all points. The following sentiments, in the form of resolutions, will further illustrate their conceptions of what a church ought to be.
“A Church of Christ is a company of moral reformers, and, any organization which refuses to engage in the prosecution of such reforms, especially those that are nearest at hand and most urgent, however excellent may be the character of individuals in it, is not a Church of Christ.
“Sectarism, guilty as it so clearly is of rending the seamless garment of the Savior—of dividing the Church of Christ into mutually warring parties—tearing asunder those who should esteem themselves to “ be One,” even as the Father and Son are One—guilty also, as it manifestly is, of making the strongest and most successful appeals to the pride, bigotry and intolerance of the heart, is, therefore, the mightiest foe on earth to truth and reform, to God and Man.”
1: The members of a Gospel Church are not only free to entertain their respective views, both of doctrine and practice, but are bound to inculcate them.”
An interesting feature of their “discipline” is to deal with schismatics, or in other words, those who circumscribe their christian sympathies within the limits of the Sects. If they find that any good man or woman has joined a sect or remains in it, they summon the person to answer to the charge of schism ; and in several instances have succeeded in convincing them they had no right to give their affection to what they would admit was only a part of the true Church.
What I have Been in this region, has convinced me that the great change indicated by these things, is mighty and near at hand. The bloated body of a corrupt Church establishment can not long endure. The hill tops every where, are tinged with the early radiance, that bespeaks a better day. May Reformers be true to all the light they enjoy, that on them, at least, its beams may multiply.
I have found the Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher greatly admired, by those who have seen it. Br. Davis’ Book, is also looked upon with deep interest; not so much for its marvellous character, however, as for the elevated system of Spirituality it unfolds, and the deep interest it evinces in whatever is humane and reformatory. I have not witnessed any disposition, however, on the part of his warmest admirers, to forbear the rigid scrutiny of reason, in respect to the great principles of which he treats; although there evidently is danger, m our contemplation of developments so truly wonderful, of relaxing the vigilance of judgment, and becoming satisfied with the mere words from a source so reliable.
I have preached every Sabbath, I have been absent; at Hamilton, Madison, Oriskany Falls, and lastly at Little Falls. Men and women of all names have listened to me, and I find more inquiry with regard to the manner of pulling down the partition walls, than how they may be built up. Heaven speed the day when all shall see eye to eye.
J. K. I.
J. K. Ingalls, “Editorial Correspondence,” The Univercoelum, 2, 22 (October 28, 1848) 345-346.