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my theological life, I had never once heard the doctrine of eternal generation seriously avowed and defended. Nearly all the ministers in New England, since I have been upon the stage, have, so far as I know their sentiments, united in rejecting it, or at least in regarding it as unimportant. Our most distinguished theologians, for forty years past, have openly declared against it. Multitudes of ministers among us, of distinguished talents and theological knowledge; men of eminent piety, and whose labours have been blessed with such revivals of religion as have scarcely appeared in any country; men whom the church will honour, long after they are dead, as some of her brightest ornaments, as diadems in her crown of glory ; men who are not only orthodox, but distinguished champions of orthodoxy; reject, as I have done, the doctrine of eternal generation. Many who are fallen asleep in Jesus, and have gone to be rewarded by that Saviour whom they loved and honoured, were of the same sentiments and character. If
you add to this the consideration, that all my convictions, springing from former examinations of the subject, were, at the time when I wrote, really and truly what my language imports, you will not be surprised, perhaps, that I expressed myself as I have done. But I had no individual, nor any particular class of men in our country, in view, when I thus wrote.
Of designed rudeness, then, or disrespect to any particular man, or body of men, I feel myself in no measure conscious. Yet, as some of my Christian brethren appear to have been offended by the strength of my expression on the subject in question, it is matter of regret to me, that I did not make use of terms less adapted to wound the feelings of those, who may differ from me.
I know your excellent character and benevolent spirit too well, to believe that you would write one line in order to wound the feelings of the great body of your clerical brethren in New England, (and of many out of it also,) who reject the doctrine of eternal generation. I will not, therefore, take exceptions at the charge of impiety, and of verging to Unitarian sentiments, which you have connected with rejecting this doctrine. Though I have the pleasure of only a inoderate personal acquaintance with you, I know enough concerning you to believe, that strong as your language is, and high as the nature of the charge might seein to be against your Christian brethren and fellow labourers in the gospel, it proceeds from no ill-will to them; nor from any cause but an honest and well meaning zeal, for what
believe to be truth. I have no disposition to ring the charges about abuse, which the Latitudinarians of our country are continually ringing, merely because a person speaks out his honest feelings respecting their views. They must needs make persecution of it. They seem to me, to court persecution with great greediness ; for one cannot seriously say that he believes thein to be in dangerous error, without exciting complaint of abuse, and that the spirit of the dark ages is reviving in our country.
With jealousies like these I am not agitated. I love to hear men honestly and frankly speak out their real feelings. How can truth undergo a fair discussion, on any other ground? And if, in the warmth of honest feeling, some expressions a little too highly coloured escape from them, a generous man, knowing that he himself “ is compassed with infirmity,” will not dwell with eagerness upon such expressions, nor take any pleasure in imputing to them a wrong spirit.
Whether the rejection of the doctrine of eternal generation be so important, and so fraught with danger, as you seem to think, is a proper subject of examination. The doctrine must first be proved to be true, before the inference can be fairly drawn, that the rejection of it is impious. But unless it can be made very plain—unless it can be irrefragably proved, perhaps it is not expe. dient to pronounce the rejection of it to be impious and heretical ; specially if, as is probable, a majority of orthodox Christians in this country reject it. My great respect and affection for
me, when I saw the passage in your Letters above extracted, to pause, and ask; Have I not been rash, in rejecting a doctrine, which so dear a friend and so excellent a minister of Christ regards as thus highly important, and intimately connected with his best hopes and highest happiness ?- I was not long, in deciding that it was my duty to reexamine the question. This I have done, so far as my time occupied with pressing official duties would enable me to do; and I now beg the liberty of submitting the result of this investigation to your eye, and to that of the Christian public.
I rejoice that I can engage in this investigation, with the full persuasion, that our difference of opinion about the doctrine in question is not essentially concerned either with piety or Christian brotherhood. With all heart, I love and honour you as a sincere and eminent Christian, although you differ from me in your views respecting the point before us; and if you cannot return this fraternal feeling, (which however I am not at all inclined to suppose is the fact,) I am well satisfied that it is only because you are honestly and sincerely conyinced that I am in an error, which
think dangerous to the best interests of religion.
I approach the subject before me, then, with no other feelings than those of kindness and respect. If I have come to an erroneous conclusion, after a pretty thorough reexamination, it will be matter of gratitude, should or any other Christian brother show me reasons to believe that my conclusion is groundless. I profess to seek for truth; and if my heart does not deceive me, I do sincerely wish to know the truth, on this subject. I doubt not that you can reciprocate these feelings; and that you
will consider with candor what I may allege, in support of the opinion which I have formed.
We will not dispute ; but it is lawful and Christian to investigate and to discuss. Truth cannot suffer by this, if we act soberly and with kind feelings, while engaged in discussion.
I am fully aware that some friends, for whom I have a high respect, and to whom I am attached by every tender tie of Christian brotherhood and affection, are apprehensive of evil from a discussion of this subject. I ought rather to say, in justice to them, they are apprehensive that it may turn out to be dispute instead of discussion. They are afraid that some breach of confidence and affection between the Christian brethren of the North and South, may be the consequence of it. It is impossible for me not to respect such kind and peaceful feelings. And if I thought that they judged rightly of the influence of discussion, I should feel myself bound to acquiesce in their views. But I have not been able, for a single moment, to suppose that our brethren at the South, are not sincerely desirous of having every subject of religious opinion undergo a fair and thorough scrutiny. A man may, icdeed, forfeit their good opinion, who wantonly assails any principles which they regard with serious approbation; or who treats sacred subjects with irreverence and levity; or disputes in a dogmatical, or disrespectful manner. It is proper that they should withhold their confidence from such a man. But that they are unwilling or afraid to discuss any of the principles which they adopt, cannot, for a moment, be credited by any one, who is acquainted with them, and seriously considers the nature of the Protestant principles which they embrace.
Even if this could be supposed of any individuals among them, I am sure that no one, who is well acquainted with you, can suppose that you would either shrink from investigation, or regard it with a jealous or an unfriendly eye. Nothing is more unlike you.
I cannot, therefore, feel that there is any hazard in submitting to your eye considerations respecting the subject in question, which are purely historical and theological, and have nothing in them of the nature of personal dispute.
The opponents of orthodox principles have, I well know, often suggested that those who embrace them are afraid of investigation, lest the consequence should be the downfall of their system. I hesitate not to say, that they are very much mistaken. There is another topic, also, on which they love to dwell. When we refrain from discussion, they charge us with fictitious, dissembled unity of sentiment, and give us no credit for real agreement. When we discuss our differences of opinion, they triumphantly allege that the orthodox are no better agreed among themselves, than they are with them. Satisfy them therefore we cannot, neither by our si. lence, nor by our discussions ; unless indeed, they may hope, in case we should fall out among ourselves, that