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Turn your book into a volume of general sermons, and I will not quarrel with it. But when you endeavour to convert a general charge of imperfection of practice, as contrasted with the theory of Christianity—a charge, which must of necessity be true-into a charge against the opinions of fourfifths of the clergy and laity of the Church of England, by entitling it " inadequate conceptions,” it is fitting that you should, if possible, be contradicted. The object, therefore, of these Letters, is not to vindicate ourselves from any general charge of imperfection of practice, but to vindicate our opinions where they may happen to differ from your own, and to explain them where, as I believe will generally be found to be the case, they are erroneously supposed to differ.
You attack us, Sir, with the full advantage of an assailant-an advantage of which you most unsparingly avail yourself. The arms of chivalry, the sling of David, the dirty water of the Chinese riotengine, and the French stink-pot, seem equally lawful to you, and are most unscrupulously and indiscriminately used to overwhelm us, by a "candid friend," ere even we can close our vizors or raise our shields. The arms of chivalry we can deal with; the sling may smite hard, though I trust not mortally, among our ranks; but against your other unchristian weapons we have no defence. We
must be content to bear the infliction, despising the annoyance, only protesting against the unfairness of their use. From such a conflict we cannot come unscathed, but I trust we may yet keep our ground and our array. You profess to use your Bible as your shield; but, Sir, you sling it upon your shoulders, and maintain but a Parthian combat, rarely trusting yourself to stand firm, even behind so impenetrable a buckler. And if, like Huntingdon, I should be compelled in my defence uncourteously to throw my mace, and its unregulated force should bruise you, remember I carried not the weapon as a missile. If dirt fall from it and splash you, it is but the dirt you yourself have thrown upon it.
On my honour, Sir, sincerely as I regret your discourteous mode of warfare, I as sincerely respect your person and your principles. There is a respect due to an eminent leader in the abolition of the slave-trade, that grand triumph of Christianity and civilization over selfishness and barbarism,and to the steady, constant, and uncompromising advocate of religion and virtue, which no want of judgment, or slight intemperance of zeal on his part, must ever cause to be forgotten by those who would arrogate to themselves the name of Christians. Rest assured, Sir, that I have not forgotten it, though in the heat of combat I may appear to
parry roughly, or attempt a quick return. don, ce n'est que pour te remettre à toi-même !” You may, however, fairly retort upon me a charge of want of courtesy in presuming thus anonymously to offer myself as the opponent of the chosen champion of Israel; and could the question be personal between us, I should admit myself to be guilty of want of respect towards you in doing so, even though my bearings, if revealed, would be all unworthy of your notice. As it is, my cause would gain nothing from my name; while, by exposing it, I should but expose myself as a mark for the weapons of every Pandarus of your party, and at the same time, perhaps, to the ridicule of every Thersites of my own; destroying, probably, by so impolitic a disclosure, that slight degree of confidence the better of my own friends might feel in an unknown champion, and which is so essentially necessary to a just and unprejudiced appreciation of his exertions. I undertake the task, Sir, not from any vain confidence in the equality of my fitness with yours, to write upon such subjects, nor in my abilities as a writer or a reasoner, nor even from any idea of being more learned in divinity than many of my fellows; but that I conceive myself peculiarly fitted for this task, as being a thoroughly fair specimen of those you design to attack. Having no pretension to more religion
than the ordinary run of English gentry, but yet having thought sufficiently upon the subject to have formed fixed and definite opinions, which being, I believe, if any thing, rather more than ordinarily tinctured with what are termed rationalizing ideas, I have no fear that in giving them, as far as I suppose them accordant with those of the generality, I shall be representing the opinions of the higher classes of society, according to your notions, at all more favourably than they deserve.
It certainly appears to me that you have very greatly mistaken those opinions, and imagined them far more different from your own than they really are. Taking your whole work together, all that you would really find fault with, barring, of course, imperfection of practice, the common preachment of every clergyman and every moralist, and which nobody disputes, is, that we do not make our religion sufficiently ostensible. I am not prepared to say, that upon the whole, there may not be some reason in the complaint. It is difficult to strike a correct medium in any thing, and in this case, perhaps, our fear of hypocrisy may have carried us a little beyond what is strictly reasonable, and may have grown into the semblance of fear of being thought religious'. Could we step
Bishop Heber has made some excellent remarks upon this subject, very true and very judicious.
back just enough, and not too much, no doubt it would be an improvement. I am confident, however, that for the well-being of religion itself, its ostensible-I may say corporeal presence in general society, cannot be too jealously watched; for its body, like all other bodies here on earth, is a sadly corruptible one, and not always sacred from an avatar of Satan.
In penitence, prayer, and other expressions of religious feeling, the same degree of admission may be made. We may have gone a trifle too far for perfection in curbing them; a hand rather lighter might have been better. But here again the relaxation requires steadiness and judgment, or plain practical realities will soon be forgotten in more imposing forms. But when you would condemn us for these things by wholesale, and contend, that not only should every restraint be removed, but every possible encouragement and stimulus given to ostensible religion and fervour of expression, I tell you you are like the advocates of popular liberty, who by the heedless removal of every wholesome restraint, would soon destroy their much-loved freedom herself, by letting loose upon her her own offspring principles. It is like a question of pruning. We, perhaps, may prune too closely, but if you force and prune not, your vine, though more showy, will ultimately bear less good fruit than even ours.