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O convince, is one thing; to prevail with men
to act in conformity with that conviction, is another. The former is the general effect of found argument, addreffed to competent understandings; the latter is ofttimes attended with a fpecies of humi liation, to which the pride of man will not fuffer him to fubmit.
It is never too foon to tread back our steps, when convinced that we are not travelling in the right path; because the difficulty of our return to it increases in proportion to our distance from it. But, alas! all men possess not firmness of mind, to enable them to do justice to their reafoning faculty; choofing rather, out of compliment to the opinion of the world, which is rarely worth obtaining, to continue in error, than to take (as they conceive) fhame to themselves, by acknowledging that they have been
mistaken; which is in fact, in other words, to fay that they are wiser to-day than they were yesterday.
This remark is, perhaps, more frequently exemplified in religious, than in any other concerns in life: for in proportion to the importance of the object in pursuit is, generally fpeaking, the strength of prejudice in favour of the plan adopted for the purpose. Hence it is, that of the many who separate from the church, very few can ever be perfuaded to return to it. You may fucceed, if master of the subject, in removing all objections, in answering all arguments, in fatisfying all fcruples; fo that feparatists fhall in a manner be left fpeechlefs: but when you think yourself upon the point of accompanying them to the house of GOD as friends, there is a lion in the way the pride of the human heart will not fuffer them to proceed. I once remember having a long and interesting converfation with a parishioner, of whose understanding I had formed a favourable judgment, upon the fubject of his leaving the church; and was fo happy as to fucceed in convincing him. When arrived at this defired point, his immediate queftion was, "what I would have him do in the cafe?" To which the answer was obvious; that he should immediately return to the place from whence he had
gone aftray. The question fubjoined to this advice manifested the infirmity of human nature. " But, fir, (continued he) what fhall I do with all thofe, whom I have drawn after me from the church?"
Bring them back with you to the church again, as the best amends that can be made for your paft error, and the strongest testimony that can be given of your prefent fincerity;' was the reply. But, alas! this was a trial too hard for flesh and blood; the man was not proof against the remarks to which he forefaw his conduct must subject him; he therefore continues to this day a member of the Meeting, in fpite of his better judgment. This cafe, it is to be feared, is by no means a fingular one. Little hopes, therefore, can be entertained, that in a fubject of this kind converfion will often accompany conviction. For when schism once takes poffeffion of the human mind, it bears fome refemblance to a cancer in the human body, which spreads its poisonous influence fo generally through the fyftem, that the disease feldom terminates but with the life of the patient.
Nevertheless, how defperate foever the cafe, the physician, while life remain, perfeveres in his attempt to cure. Upon this principle, rather than upon any fanguine hope of fuccefs, I have thrown
together the foregoing thoughts upon a fubject, which to me appears of the utmost importance. My earnest wish in so doing has been, in the first inftance, to discharge fome part of my duty towards those immediately committed to my care. In the fecond, to do fome little good in a more general way, should GOD think me worthy to become an inftrument of doing good in fuch a caufe.
It is not to be expected that what has been writ ten, should make impreffion upon those who will not give themselves leave to think differently from what they may have been accustomed to think; for prejudice, generally speaking, turns its back upon reafon: but I cannot help indulging a hope, that where it meets with a candid and ingenuous mind, it will not fail of being attended with some effect. The only probable way to succeed in this case seems to be, by putting men upon the proper ufe of their rational faculties, from a conviction that ignorance is the prolific parent of error.
All men, it is certain, are not qualified to penetrate into the depths of fcience; nor is it neceffary for the general purposes of life, that all men should be either hiftorians, metaphyficians, logicians, or critics. But all men are concerned to know what plan has been
revealed for the promotion of their eternal welfare; and in what manner their conduct muft correfpond with it, to fecure its effect. It is to be fuppofed, therefore, that an all-gracious GOD has furnished all men with an understanding competent to this purpose, provided it be properly employed. To that understanding the appeal is here made. For the caufe we have in hand, requires not that we should put out the eyes of men, in order to lead them blindfold in their Christian journey. On the contrary, we are defirous that they should fee for themselves, and fee clearly; upon the idea, that the more they fee, the less prejudice they will entertain, and the more they will be fatisfied with the direction of their appointed guides.
With this view the Bible is put into their hands; and they are required, after the example of the Bereans, to fearch and examine, whether what has been faid upon the subject of the church be agreeable to the tenour of the Apoftolic writings. For that is the standard to which all opinions upon this fubject must be ultimately referred.
From these writings, principally, we have collected what appears to us decifive evidence respecting the nature, defign, and conftitution, of the Chriftian