First Published by the Shakers in 1823, then this Second Edition in 1848
THE increasing attention which, within a few years, has been directed to the principles and practice of the people called Shakers, by travelers and writers of various classes and descriptions, has occasioned much enquiry among almost all classes of people. Publications have been issued from the press in almost every form. Historians of the various denominations of religion, writers of travels, compilers of Geographies and Gazetteers, the editors of periodical essays, and the publishers of common newspapers, have all in their turns, thought proper to notice in some way or other, the people so much "wondered at." But in consequence of the various and contradictory accounts of many of these writers, and the false and erroneous statements concerning the principles of the people, which are so manifest in the generality of those accounts, the Society has been earnestly solicited by many candid and intelligent persons to publish a plain and correct statement of facts relative to the history of the Society, in a concise form, containing its origin, progress and present state; with a fair view of the religious faith and practice of the Society, and the principles on which their peculiar tenets are founded.
In compliance with these repeated calls, and with a view to afford the candid and unprejudiced of all classes a fair opportunity of examining for themselves, and obtaining a correct knowledge of the truth from the proper source, the following pages have been written, and are now offered to the public in a form which may easily be obtained and readily perused by every one who desires it.
We shall make no apologies for what we have written, as to the matter or manner. It has been our aim to state the plain truth, without covering or disguise, according to the best of our understanding and abilities; and also to comprise the different subjects in as small a compass as could conveniently be done, and convey a clear understanding to the reader. To comprise much matter in a little space, and give a full and comprehensive view of many important subjects in a small compass, is not a small task. How far we have effected the object, remains to be seen and judged of by the candid and judicious reader. Plainness, clearness and simplicity have been objects at which we have aimed in our manner and style of writing; and we trust the matter will be found intelligible to every class of readers.
With respect to the subjects upon which we have written, our object has been to give a summary view of the rise, progress and present state of the Society, together with a plain illustration of its faith and principles. A few other subjects might have been added with propriety; but we have aimed at brevity, and we think we have noticed those of the most importance, and such as may give satisfaction to candid inquirers after truth. But as the light of Divine truth is progressive in the church, and as the preparatory work of salvation and redemption increases on earth; so the solemn and important truths of the gospel will continue, from time to time, to be more clearly manifested to mankind. As to the real substance of the gospel of salvation, it was fully revealed to the first witnesses of Christ's second appearing; but as the work of salvation advances, the light becomes more clear, and truth appears more plain; and while those who receive and obey it find increasing peace and justification; so those who see and reject it, will find their condemnation to increase with the increasing light of truth.
SETH Y. WELLS.
New Lebanon, May 12,1823.
1. THE present age of the world is an age of wonders. The most extraordinary changes, revolutions and remarkable events are rapidly rolling on, through the physical, political, moral and religious world, that were ever known on earth. These premises, we believe, will generally be admitted. It appears to be the prevailing sentiment and expectation among nearly all ranks and orders of people, that something wonderful is about to take place; that there will be such a revolution of public sentiment, and such a reformation will be effected in the various branches of human economy as never has been exhibited in the world since the creation of man.
2. These expectations are evidently effected by the operations of Divine Providence upon the hearts of the people, and are manifestly the precursors and signals of coming events. These events can be truly understood in no other light than as allusions to the period of Christ's second coming. The general expectations of the near approach of a Divine Ruler and Teacher called the Messiah, which prevailed among the Jews, and more or less among other nations, about the time that Jesus Christ came into the world, were also the effects of the same overruling Providence. These two events are the most important to mankind of any that have ever taken place on earth, and will yet appear so to all people, whether they believe it or not.
3. The events relating to Christ's second appearance, of which we are more particularly to treat in this volume, are rapidly progressing towards their accomplishment, in many and various ways. But among all the hopeful expectations, labors and desires of mankind, in the present age, none appear more evident than those which lead to the formation of associations in which all the members can enjoy equal rights and privileges, physical and moral, both of a spiritual and temporal nature, in a united capacity. Many have become fully convinced that this is the ultimate destiny of mankind, and that they never can enjoy that happiness for which their Creator designed them, in any other way than in such united capacity. This is true; but this united capacity must he built on the true foundation, which is nothing less than divine revelation, or it cannot stand.
4. Some of the greatest pursuits of the age appear to be directed to these communities. They have their combined associations for almost every kind of improvement, whether of a religious, moral or physical nature. Yet to attain this desirable object, and support it in its true order, they have not the power; in this they are greatly deficient. The great inequality of rights and privileges which prevails so extensively throughout the world, is a striking evidence of the importance of a reformation of some kind. Who can view the unequal state of human society, the overgrown wealth of the few, and the abject poverty of the many, and not be convinced of this? Surely it is too obvious to escape the notice of any rational mind.
5. To see the luxurious state of the pampered rich, the oppression and destitution of the poor, who are perishing by thousands, yea, hundreds of thousands, for the want of the necessaries of life; and the consequent bitter animosities and increasing collisions between the rich and the poor, must suggest to every benevolent mind the indispensable necessity of some system of operation among men, that will confer a much greater equality of rights and privileges, both in person and property, than any which now prevails, in order to prevent mankind from rushing on to utter ruin.
6. Multitudes of people have been so firmly persuaded of the utility and practicability of such a system, that they have attempted to form communities upon the plan of equal rights and privileges, with a unity of interest in all things, believing that it is the design of the benevolent Creator that man should be a social and benevolent being; that their joys and sorrows, as fellow beings, may be shared together. These sentiments are evidently the impressions of Divine Goodness, and clearly show his benevolent designs for his creature man, who is his intelligent representative in this lower world. This was prefigured under the law, when Divine Providence fed the people of Israel with manna. Of this they all shared equally, according to their necessities. (See Exod. 16: 4-18.)
7. During the present century, many attempts have been made to form associations upon the plan of a community of interest, in various parts of Europe and in the United States of America. Many societies have been formed in part or wholly upon this plan. But it is well known that with all their wisdom, skill, benevolent designs, unity of intention, convenience of location and confidence of success, they have soon failed in their expectations, and been scattered as before. This signal and general failure has more or less disappointed the votaries of this system, and set many to devising some other plan to accomplish their object. Many, of course, scoff at the idea of such communities, while others, after having tried the system, have given up the object as unattainable.
8. But notwithstanding these general failures, we are prepared to show that there is a sure system, founded upon the principles of a unity of interest in all things, which has stood the test a sufficient length of time, to prove that it can be attained and supported. This system has been established and maintained for many years, in seven different states in this Union, and in many locations in these states.
9. The United Society of Believers (called Shakers) was founded upon the principles of equal rights and privileges, with a united interest in all things, both spiritual and temporal, and has been maintained and supported in this Society, at New Lebanon, about sixty years, without the least appearance of any failure. Is not this proof sufficient in favor of such a system?
10. We believe it will generally be granted that no institution, either social or religious, ever founded on earth, has, in any age of the world, stood half a century without a manifest declension in the general virtue of its principles, and the integrity of its members, however extensive and durable may have been its name and popularity of character.
11. But this United Society, though formed of characters, views and dispositions of all kinds that can be named, of various nations, of rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, has maintained its primitive institution and the integrity of its first principles, with a continued increase of the same to this day. And although it has founded and established branches in various states of the Union, where the laws and customs of the people vary, it has not failed in its ability to maintain its institutions and the purity of its religious principles in a single instance.1
12. We would now invite the serious consideration of all candid readers to these facts, and ask them to consider well what can be the cause that this Society, in all its branches, and located in various states, far distant from each other, has alone stood the test on the ground of a united system, while all others that have made the attempt on this ground, have either failed or appear likely to fail in the main object of their association?
13. The only reasonable answer we can give is, that the system of the one has been directed by Divine Wisdom, supported by the revelation of God, and comprises the only true principles by which such an institution can be sustained; while on the contrary, the other is devised by the wisdom of man, and sustained by the fallible principles of human invention.
14. But why do these attempts fail? And what are those principles by which the system can be sustained? To which we answer: It is well known that the world, in its present state, is full of disorders and miseries, evils which it is the object of these systems to remedy. And if these well known evils can be remedied by these systems, their advocates believe that mankind may live happily, even in this world. This cannot be denied. But these defects are in the depraved nature of man. How then are they to be remedied? It is in vain to suppose that nature can remedy her own defects, and cure the depravity of her children.
15. For if nature had not the power to prevent these defects, she certainly can have no power to rectify them, and restore her children to a state of rectitude. Therefore, any system which can effect this object, must proceed from a source above the power of nature, even from that Supreme Power and Wisdom from which nature uncorrupted originated. And knowledge and power to effect this, can be received only by revelation, through the agents of Divine appointment. Nor can the desired object be accomplished in any other way than in conformity to the principles thus revealed.
16. We have no evidence that the system of a full united interest was ever established and maintained for any considerable length of time, excepting in two instances, and in ages widely distant from each other. The first was founded in the days of the Apostles, by Divine revelation, and was established at Jerusalem, as a kind of first-fruits of what Divine Wisdom had designed to accomplish in the fullness of time. (See Acts 2:44, 45, also 4:34-37) This continued until its subjects were obliged to flee from the city, to avoid the impending destruction of the Jews, with their favorite city and temple, which had been foretold by the Saviour. (Mark 13:18, 19.)
17. Attempts were afterwards made by the faithful members to continue the system, and a partial revival took place at different times; but it never existed in its original order and purity for any great length of time, before its true order and spirit was entirely lost. That the system of a united interest was an institution of the primitive church is clearly evident, not only from the many attempts made in different ages to establish and maintain such an interest, but also from the general and long continued pretence of the monastic orders of the Roman Catholic church to imitate such a system, though this imitation comes far short of the purity of the original institution.
18. The second manifestation or revival of the system of a united interest was given, in this our day, by Divine revelation, and has been, thus far, maintained in its purity, being supported by the true principles of self-denial and chastity; nor can all the exertions of human nature ever sustain it on any other principle. The system is founded on the law of grace, and therefore can admit of no carnal connection or fleshly indulgence whatever.
19. Even natural relatives, husbands, wives and children, living or attempting to live in that fleshly connection, cannot maintain the system for any considerable length of time. For that nature is partial and selfish, and inclines to seek its own indulgence and self-gratification, and is therefore incompatible with that principle of universal love and disinterested benevolence, which is indispensable to the maintenance of a united interest in all things, in any society or community whatever.
20. It was by Divine revelation and those self-denying principles that the primitive church was able to support the system of unity for many years. And it is by the same revelation and self-denying principles that this United Society has been able to support and maintain its union and standing to this day.
21. Now let any candid person examine the causes by which associations (formed for good purposes no doubt) so often fail, and he will find that it arises from the partial and selfish relations of husbands, wives and children, and other kindred relations, together with the jealousies and evil surmises naturally arising therefrom. Therefore, all who attempt to establish and support such a system by any power of nature, or by any human wisdom, or indeed by any means short of self-denial, integrity of principle, and real chastity of person, will most certainly fail in the end. But we view all labors of this kind as providential and beneficial to mankind, and preparatory to the order of the true work.
- End of Excerpt from Introductory Remarks -
THE ESTABLISHED ORDER AND RELIGIOUS PRACTICE OF THE UNITED SOCIETY
1.THE subject of religious worship has excited the attention of all nations, of all religions, throughout all ages of the world. Perhaps there is no subject on which there has existed a greater diversity of sentiment. Even among those who profess the Christian religion, the great variety of opinions would seem to indicate to an impartial observer, that almost every different denomination believed in a different God, and expected to be saved by a different Savior, and to enjoy a different Heaven.
2. This great diversity of opinion, on a subject of such infinite importance to all, is certainly most conclusive evidence of the great deficiency of the Spirit of God among Christian professors, and of their ignorance of his true character and most acceptable worship. In former days, this diversity of sentiment was the occasion of great contentions and persecutions; but since the principles of civil and religious liberty have had a prevailing influence, and the spirit of persecution has lost its tyrannical power, modern Christians profess great charity and forbearance towards each other; but still the same difference of religious sentiment prevails, and there are still many ways of performing religious worship.
3. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he prayed for his followers, that they might be one with him, as he was one with the Father. As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." And again: "that they may be one, even as we are one; And the apostle Paul to the Ephesians, testifies that there is, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." If then there is but one God, one Lord, one faith and one baptism; and if Christ is one with the Father, and his people are one with him; how is it that those who profess to be his people, at the present day, are so divided into sects and parties? Surely Christ's true followers cannot be divided; they are one with him, as he is one with the Father.
4. Again: Jesus Christ testified, saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." He did not say, " I am one of the ways;" but, "I am the way" Again he said; "God is Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth." How then is it possible that the One Spirit of God, which is in Christ, who teaches us to worship in spirit and in truth, should at the same time, teach Christians so many different opinions? Surely no true Christian, who knows anything of the Spirit of God, can ever suppose this to be the case; and if not, then we would ask, who has taught these opinions, and directed and established all these ways of worship?
5. The Spirit of God and of Christ, which is one, necessarily leads to a oneness, both in doctrine and in worship; but the various doctrines and modes of worship among the various sects of professing Christians, instead of uniting souls in the Spirit of Christ, produce a contrary effect. They tend much more to scatter and divide; and hence the increasing divisions and separations that are continually taking place, from time to time, among those who call themselves Christians.
6. "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." And so long as their systems of religious doctrine and worship are of human invention, so long will they worship in vain. The only worship which is, or ever can be acceptable to God, is that which is performed in obedience to his will. Therefore, the first object of every rational soul ought to be, to know the will of God, and to do it. " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
7. In the early ages of mankind, after the fall, it does not appear that there was any established order of worship given; but those whose hearts were turned to honor the living and true God, worshiped him by their obedience in those things which he commanded them. Thus Enoch, Noah, and the rest of the early patriarchs, served God; and thus Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets, in after ages, served God. And though they frequently offered sacrifices and burnt-offerings; yet it was done in obedience to the will of God; otherwise their offerings could not have been accepted.
8. After the children of Israel were brought out of the land of Egypt, they, as a body of people, a chosen generation, served God by their obedience to those ordinances which God gave to Moses for their protection. This was the established worship of the children of Israel; and this continued with all who were obedient to the will of God, till the coming of Jesus Christ. A short time previous to the ministration of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist was sent to preach repentance and baptize with water; and all who received his testimony, and were obedient to it, honored God by confessing their sins and receiving the baptism of water, which was a figure of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which was to follow, as the true baptism of Christ.
9. But during the dispensation of Moses, through all the law and the prophets, it is worthy of particular remark, that God would not accept the offerings of those who were disobedient, but severely reproved them by the mouth of the prophets. "Ah! sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corruptors! Bring no more vain oblations; to what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear." These, and many other severe reproofs, clearly show that God would not accept an offering from those who were disobedient and sinful, even though the offering, in other respects, were conformable to his Divine Institution. And so it is in the present day; God never will accept any kind of offering, nor any manner of worship, from those who live in disobedience to his will, and knowingly commit sin.
10. When Jesus Christ came, he served and worshiped God by doing his will in all things; he faithfully finished the work which the Father gave him to do. The apostles also, and the primitive Christians, who were faithful to obey the law of Christ, worshipped God as they were moved and directed by his Spirit; and by their perfect obedience they found justification before God.
11. But as the Kingdom of Christ was not permanently established on earth, at that time, though the work of his Kingdom was begun, and the foundation of his Church was laid, yet the time had not arrived, nor was the way prepared for a permanent establishment; therefore no particular order of religious worship could be fully established in that day; and indeed, if any such had been given, it would undoubtedly have shared the fate of those institutions which were given, that is, it would have been shamefully corrupted or utterly destroyed by the wicked works of Antichrist, which soon followed. But while the primitive Christians stood faithful in their calling, they assembled themselves together, and worshiped God in prayer, vocal or silent; in praise and thanksgiving; in exhortations to faithfulness, and in feasts of charity, by which they expressed their love and union to each other; in prophesying and speaking with new tongues, and in such other acts of worship as they were led into by the operations of the Holy Spirit.
12. This various kind of worship, excepting perhaps some of the apostolic gifts, continued, mostly, with all the true witnesses, who followed the dictates of the Spirit of Truth, through all the long and gloomy reign of Antichristian darkness, until near the time of Christ's second appearing.
13. At this time, there were many who felt themselves involved in a night of spiritual darkness, in which they saw that the great body of Christian professors, instead of being led by the influence of the Holy Spirit, had become the blind and bigoted dupes of human creeds and human ceremonies, and were led and governed by worldly wisdom and ecclesiastical policy, under the power of Antichrist. Under a sorrowful impression of this truth, they chose to distrust their own natural wisdom and judgment, in regard to spiritual things, as being liable to lead them into the same dead formalities, and to rely on the influence of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them in the worship of God. Hence they performed no acts of worship, except such as they were involuntarily moved to perform by the influence of the Spirit of Life from God.
14. A number of these faithful souls, having united themselves together, and being thus separated from the lifeless formulas and fruitless ceremonies of human invention, and feeling wholly dependent on the gift of God, devoted themselves to his will, determined to follow no guide short of a clear manifestation of Divine light. Hence the light of Divine truth, and the operations of Divine power, increased among them, until they were involuntarily led, by the mighty power of God, to go forth and worship in the dance. The apostolic gifts were also renewed in their full power; so that, "thy spake with new tongues and prophesied." In these operations, they were filled with melodious and heavenly songs, especially while under the operation of dancing. These involuntary operations of singing and dancing were repeated, from time to time in their assemblies, though often intermixed with other spiritual gifts, till, by Divine Revelation, they became an established exercise in the worship of God.
15. Thus the exercise of dancing in the worship of God, was brought to light, not as an exercise of human invention, instituted by human authority; but as a manifestation of the will of God, through the special operations of his Divine Power.
16. This exercise was expressly pointed out by the law and the prophets, as the peculiar manner of worship to be established among God's people in the latter day. As the great and last display of God's grace to fallen man, and the peculiar mode of religious worship attending it, were to be introduced through the female; so it is worthy of remark, that under the law and the prophets, both the example and the promise were, in a peculiar manner, prefigured in the female.
17. When the children of Israel were delivered from their Egyptian bondage, (which was a striking figure of the redemption of God's people from the dominion of sin,) Moses and the children of Israel sung unto the Lord a song of thanksgiving for their deliverance. And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances." Also, when Jephthah returned from his victory over the children of Ammon, "his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances." So also, after the victory of David and the Israelites over Goliah and the Philistine armies, " The women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing." And again: at the yearly feast of the Lord in Shiloh, the daughters of Shiloh came out " to dance in dances." And when the ark of God was removed and established in the city of David, the occasion was celebrated by the same exercise; David and all Israel danced before the Lord.
18. It appears evident that dancing was practiced among the children of Israel, on all joyful occasions, and especially on obtaining a victory over their enemies; which was a figurative manifestation of the manner in which the true followers of Christ were to be called to worship God, and manifest their joy in the latter day, for their victory over the powers of darkness. And as this kind of worship was acceptable to God in that day, and was the highest expression of joy and thankfulness that could be used on such extraordinary occasions; so it was not only a most striking figure of the joy and triumph of the saints in the latter day, but an evident example of the most expressive kind of worship in which they can unitedly exercise the faculty of soul and body, in the service of God.
19. In consequence of the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon, they were delivered of this sacred exercise, and, like the vessels of the sanctuary it was profaned by the wicked, in the service of the Devil. Hence the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah; "The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.", And though this kind of worship was abused in the idolatrous revels of the wicked; yet a promise was given that it should be restored in the latter day. And it is worthy of remark, that this promise is particularly connected with the promises which allude to the restoration of the church, and the latter day of glory.
20. Thus saith the Lord, by the prophet Jeremiah; "Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither." Here is a particular allusion to the operations of the gospel of Christ, in his second appearing, which was to be made manifest in calling lost souls from the various quarters where they were scattered, and gathering them to a place of peace and safety, where they were to enjoy the benefits of the gospel, in a united body.
21. And again: "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a strait way, wherein they shall not stumble." This implies that, forsaking the former course of their lives, they were to come as humble penitents, imploring the mercy of God, and seeking salvation from sin. By the rivers of waters, is to be understood, the refreshing streams of eternal life, which will cleanse, purify and refresh the soul that receives the benefit of them. By walking in a strait way, wherein they shall not stumble, implies that the way will be so perfectly plain, clear and certain, that no one can doubt the safety of it, nor stumble into any darkness or uncertainty while he keeps in it; and being a way of perfect righteousness, it cannot possibly admit anything that is sinful or wrong.
22. "Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord: Then shalt the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord."
23. What can be more plain and clear to the point than these declarations of the prophet? What words could describe with more certainty, not only the fullness of joy, comfort and satisfaction of those who should come into this plain and perfect way, but also the divine exercises, and very manner of worship in which they would be engaged? The term virgin, signifies purity; and this prediction of the prophet was evidently intended to imply, that those who should be called to this glorious work, and enjoy these blessed privileges, must be a pure people. Hence, "both young men and old," being characterized by the title virgin, must possess purity of heart, and live a virgin life. 1
24. We are aware that a strong prejudice prevails against the exercise of dancing, as an act of divine worship, in consequence of its having been, for many ages, perverted to the service of the wicked. Hence, it is considered by many as, at best, but a vain recreation, much more calculated to gratify the levity of giddy, thoughtless mortals, and to divert the mind from sober reflections, than to enliven the devotional feelings of the heart, and promote the solid enjoyments of the Christian. Therefore they judge it altogether unreasonable and inconsistent to suppose it can be acceptable to God as an act of divine worship. But we would seriously ask whether the same objections will not operate, still more forcibly, against singing, as an act of divine worship?
25. It is a well known fact, that every created talent, pertaining to fallen man, which was designed for the service of God, has been perverted and abused to vain, foolish and wicked purposes; and perhaps none more generally so than that of singing. Music, unconnected with dancing, is doubtless much more generally used, as an amusement of the wicked: besides, as it is the very life of dancing, it must, at least, be equally reprehensible in that view alone. But this is not all. The talents of poetry and music, exclusive of their connection with dancing, are still far more abused by being devoted to base purposes.
26. Is there a single base passion or evil propensity, in human nature, which has not been more or less excited, indulged and gratified by means of poetical and musical compositions? How often have the angry passions been roused by war songs, and urged mankind to mutual butchery, blood and slaughter? How often have the lascivious passions been excited and indulged by obscene songs! How often is morality set at naught, and piety and religion abused, yea, and the name of God and all sacred things blasphemed by the wicked, in their profane songs! How often has vice been exalted, and virtue depressed, yea, how often has the virtuous mind been robbed of its innocence, and villainy emboldened in crimes, by songs calculated and used for those very purposes! Do not the revels of drunkards and profane swearers often owe their excesses to their bacchanalian songs, as well as to their bottles?
27. In short, have not thefts, robberies and murders, and indeed every species of villainy, been much more excited and encouraged by music than by dancing? And yet music has been encouraged and practiced, as a part of divine worship, by nearly all denominations, while dancing has been condemned and excluded. But upon what principle? Why truly upon this; that dancing cannot be an acceptable mode of worship, because it is practiced in the carnal recreations of the wicked! Thus man assumes the right of deciding in what manner God shall be worshiped! But will God acknowledge such a decision as this? And must the followers of Christ, in compliance with this decision, bury a portion of their talents in the earth, which were given for the service of God, because the wicked have profanely abused such like talents, in the service of the Devil? Does such a decision appear honorable to the wisdom of man, even upon the supposition that he has a right to decide in what manner God shall he worshiped? Is it not rather a glaring evidence of the total insufficiency of human sagacity to regulate those things which belong to Divine Wisdom ?
28. God has created man an active, intelligent being, possessing important powers and faculties, capable of serving himself according to his needs and circumstances; and he is required to devote these powers and faculties to the service of God. To devote only a part to the service of God, is to render an imperfect service, which God never will accept. Man is required to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. 1 Every faculty must therefore be devoted to the love of God; but it is in vain to talk of loving God with all the faculties, without serving him with all the faculties: for no man who truly loves God with all his faculties, can refrain from devoting all to his service; and he who is unwilling to devote all to the service of God, can never devote all to his love.
29. God has created nothing in vain. The faculty of dancing, as well as that of singing, was undoubtedly created for the honor and glory of the Creator; and therefore it must be devoted to his service, in order to answer that purpose. God has created the tongue of man, and endowed it with the faculty of speech, by which be is enabled to manifest the desires and feelings of his mind. He has also created the hands and the feet, and enabled them to perform their functions, in the service of the body. And shall these important faculties, or indeed any of the powers and faculties of man, which God has given to be devoted to his service, be active in his own service, or in the service of sin, and yet be idle in the service of God? Or shall the tongue alone be employed in the service of God, while all the other faculties of the body are idle, or otherwise employed? Employed too, perhaps, in some evil, or at best, some useless purpose.
30. The parable of the unfaithful servant, who buried his talent in the earth, is well calculated to show that God requires of man the faithful improvement of his talents; and it must hence appear evident, that he who will not improve his talents, cannot be accepted of God, nor find an entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Man is made up of certain active powers and faculties which were created of God, and which must be employed in some active service, or remain idle. When these faculties are exercised in divine worship, God is honored and glorified by them; but when they are exercised in the service of sin and Satan, then God is dishonored thereby. If therefore the soul who suffers these talents to remain idle and unimproved, is to be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven, what must be the portion of him who employs those talents in the service of the Devil, which were given him for the service of God?
31. God requires the faithful improvement of every created talent. "Oh clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the saints. Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King; let them praise his name in the dance." These expressions of the inspired Psalmist are worthy of serious consideration. Do they not evidently imply that the Divine Spirit which dictated them, requires the devotion of all our faculties in the service of God? How then can any people, professing religion, expect to find acceptance with God by the service of the tongue only?
32. Since we are blessed with hands and feet, those active and useful members of the body on which we mostly depend, in our own service, shall we not acknowledge our obligations to God who gave them, by exercising them in our devotions to him? Or shall we act the part of dishonest debtors, who deal in good words and fair speeches, instead of repaying what they justly owe? Words are but sounds uttered by the tongue; and if uttered in truth and sincerity, they may express the ideas and feelings of the heart; but the heart, without the assistance of the tongue, is capable of expressing to God all that we can express by the tongue.
33. God indeed looks at the heart; and although some may plead the merit of devoting their hearts to God, and urge that he can be sufficiently worshiped by such a devotion, without the exercise of dancing, or any other exertion of the bodily faculties, not even excepting the tongue; yet the heart must be but feebly engaged in the worship of God, when all the active powers of the body are idle. There is too powerful a connection between the body and mind, and too strong an influence of the mind upon the body, to admit of much activity of mind in the service of God, without the cooperating exercises of the body. But where the heart is sincerely and fervently engaged in the service of God, it has a tendency to produce an active influence on the body.
34. "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." So also from the heart proceeds that fervency of spirit by which we worship God in the dance, and by which we show forth the acknowledgments of the soul to Him who gave us life and activity. The devotion of the heart, which includes all the feelings and intentions of the mind, is indeed absolutely necessary at all times, and under all external exercises. For a thousand adorations of prayer and praise, pronounced by the tongue, would be but empty sounds, without the devotional feelings of the heart, which must finally test the sincerity of the worshiper in the sight of God. So also, with regard to the exercise of dancing, or any exercise of the bodily powers, they must proceed from the heart, or they can never find acceptance before God.
35. As union is the distinguishing characteristic of the true followers of Christ; so it is an essential part of the worship of God. Where a body of Christians are united in Spirit, they cannot but feel a peculiar blessing when united in their religious devotions. To render this the more perfect, a uniformity of exercise is necessary. Indeed the true union of the spirit has a direct tendency to produce a harmonious order in the exercises of divine worship. As Christ's followers are one with him as he is one with the Father; so, where all are united in one spirit, to worship God according to his own appointment, they will be engaged in a uniform exercise. Such is the harmony of the heavenly world, and such must be the harmony of the Christian church, in its completed order.
36. It will doubtless be granted, that no one can worship God for another; that each one must exercise his own faculties in the service of God, and not depend on the exercise of another's faculties. And hence the necessity of a harmonious unity in divine worship, that each individual may participate in the united devotions of the whole body, and mutually contribute to the strength, and share in the harmony of all. Union is the strength of God's people, and the glory of divine worship. Thus united in spirit, and inspired with divine love, a whole assembly can move in harmonious order, and devote the active powers of soul and body to the giver of all good, while they chant their songs of adoration to their Redeemer, and "praise his name in the dance." What among all the variety of religious devotions, by which mankind attempt to worship the Eternal God, is more calculated to inspire the soul with heavenly sensations, and give us an idea of the worship of angels? How far from this harmonious worship are the dull attempts of a congregation, wherein but a small portion of the people are engaged, while the far greater part are entirety silent, inactive and unconcerned!
37. Who can behold an assembly of people thus united, and thus exercised in the worship of God, and not perceive that they are governed by one spirit? And is not this the one virgin body of Christ to whom the promise alluded? "Then shalt the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together." Here both young and old, under the character of the virgin, are comforted from their sorrow and "rejoice in the dance." Here is the cleansed sanctuary; and here every vessel, or in other words, every talent which God ever gave his people, though defiled by the wicked, for many ages, is now purified and restored in this living temple, the church of the latter day.
38. How clearly this was prefigured by the cleansing of the profaned vessels of the Jewish temple, and restoring them to the second temple! Here the second temple is manifested. In this temple is revealed the ark alluded to in John's vision, and we have found access to it. The dancing of David and all Israel before the ark, in that day, was typical of the true worship of God, under the gospel dispensation. Then how much greater cause have the true followers of Christ, in the present day, to devote all their active powers to the worship of God, before this spiritual ark which is the real substance.
39. As the predictions of the prophets, concerning these things, could only be in part fulfilled, in Christ's first appearing, therefore he renewed these predictions and the promises contained in them. His parable of the prodigal son, alluded expressly to this subject. In this is represented, in a striking light, the state of fallen man. Having "wasted his substance in riotous living," having strayed from God, and abused that light and wasted those talents which his heavenly Father had given him, in doing his own will and seeking his own pleasures, he at length comes to his senses, feels his poverty and laments his folly. Having returned from feeding the swine, quit the filthy companions of his wickedness, and the miserable gratifications of his carnal nature, he confesses his sins and begs his Father's forgiveness: And being stripped of his old garments of sin and uncleanness, and clad with a robe of righteousness and purity, there is " music and dancing."
40. But observe the conduct of the elder son: this music and dancing is highly offensive to him; and in his anger he refuses to enter in and partake of the general joy of his father's house, exalts his own righteousness and goodness, condemns his prodigal brother, and accuses his father of injustice.
41. This character clearly points out the formal professor of religion, who readily acknowledges the manifestation of God in a former day, and strictly adheres to the forms and ordinances of a past dispensation, in which he places all his trust, without regarding any present manifestation of divine light, except with feelings of jealousy and opposition. And though he may have been faithful for a season; yet, being regardless of any increase of righteousness in his own soul, he loses the Spirit of God, and settles down upon a form of godliness without the power. Such are ever more ready to reject any increasing display of God's work, than those who make no profession of religion.
42. Jesus Christ testified against the conduct of the high professors of religion in his day, who pretended great zeal in keeping the law given in a former dispensation; but at the same time, rejected his testimony: "Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you." But had they been willing to receive his testimony, and enter into the increasing light of his Kingdom, they would not have been excluded: he even "entreated them to come in;" but they refused; as appears evident from his lamentation over Jerusalem: "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" And wherefore did the Jews reject Christ, while, at the same time, they professed such zeal for the law of God? The apostle Paul says, "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God," How clearly is this exemplified in the elder son, who condemned his father's righteousness and extolled his own!
43. As the elder son was angry at his father's proceedings, and would not come in, it appears evident that, whatever obedience he might formerly have yielded, he still possessed the carnal mind, which is "enmity against God." Therefore, in applying this character to the formal professor, we may with propriety and justice remark, that whatever degree of confidence he may place in his former righteousness, he never can find his union with the Father, unless he is willing to unite with the increasing light of truth, wherever it is made manifest: and though the Father should offer him all his possessions, he could never enjoy them so long as he continued in disunion with the Giver.
44. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican, who went up into the temple to pray,
is designed to represent the same characters. As the Pharisee, like the elder son,
justified himself in the observance of formal ceremonies; so the publican, like the
prodigal, condemned himself, and begged for mercy: therefore, being the more honest, he
was "justified rather than the other;" yet neither of them could be justified,
as to their original characters.*
45. From such self-justified Pharisees and professors of religion, arises the greatest opposition against any new manifestation of the light of God. The reason is obvious; they fix their sense upon the work of God in some past dispensation, instead of pressing forward to find the light of God before them. Thus the Scribes and Pharisees of that day, had their sense so firmly fixed to the law of Moses, as the foundation of their hope, and the ground of their justification, that they could not hearken to the voice of Jesus Christ, "who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, "especially as they found that his righteousness required a greater cross against the fallen nature of man, than was required by the law. And even to this day, the Jews, as a people, have never acknowledged Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.
46. The same kind of conduct is observable, in a greater or less degree, among the formal professors of the various denominations, at the present day. After having lost the spirit and power of their religion, by the indulgence of their corrupt propensities, they settle down into a lifeless form, upon some fixed, external principles, established by their first founders, without looking forward for any further increase, unless it be that increasing indulgence to the flesh which tends to diminish the cross, and assimilate their religion with the principles and spirit of the world. And so strongly opposed are such professors to every thing that has any appearance of that light and power of God which requires a greater cross against the pride and lust of man, that we generally find the greatest opposition against dancing, as an act of divine worship, to proceed from professors of this description. Yet such characters will generally manifest great zeal for that ceremonious and formal worship which is performed by the tongue only.
47. Thus while they are offended at the increasing work of God, they still maintain the character of the elder son, who was irreconcilable to the merciful displays of his father's kindness and charity. And yet the same call of the everlasting gospel is extended to them, as freely as to their more prodigal brethren, who, if they are not less sinners, are less blinded by traditional forms of godliness, and therefore have no cloak for their sins. Therefore all are invited upon equal terms: "Come in and share the fatted calf; the feast of the Lamb; be stripped of your old garments of sin, and be clad with the robes of righteousness: Come in and rejoice with your repenting, prodigal brother, and worship God in the dance."
- End of Part II, Chapter 5 -
THE NATURE OF GOD AND HIS WORKS OF CREATION.
1. MUCH learned labor has been spent in vain attempts to search out the nature and character of God, and to pry into the attributes of the Almighty; as though poor sinful man, in his fallen and depraved state, were able, by his own wisdom and understanding, to trace out those qualities which constitute the ALMIGHTY GOD! "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?" 1
2. The infinite and invisible God can be known only through the medium of Divine Revelation. As far as God in his wisdom sees fit to reveal his true character to man, so far it may be known, but no further. And it is certainly most reasonable and consistent, as well as most just and equitable, that a being who is infinitely just and righteous, should make the greatest displays of himself to those who, by faith and obedience, approach the nearest to him. Therefore it is not to the learned Theologist, immured in the deep recesses of philosophical speculation, that God deigns to reveal himself in his true character; but to those who deny themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust, who walk in the paths of righteousness and peace, who are not merely knowers of his word, but doers of his work. Such, and such only, have a just right to look to God for a true knowledge of his Divine character; and such can, with humble confidence, rely on a faithful display of his goodness, without involving themselves in the dark mazes of skepticism, by a pertinacious confidence in their own wisdom and discernment.
3. To have just conceptions of the real character of that Divine PRINCIPLE OR BEING whom we call God, it is necessary to understand the nature of his attributes, which stand in perfect correspondence with each other, and which are fully displayed in his Word and Works, and clearly manifest his Divine perfections. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made."
4. It is certainly most reasonable and consistent with infinite wisdom, that the image and likeness of God should be most plainly manifested in man, who was made the most noble part of the natural creation. Accordingly we read, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Hence it must appear evident that there exists in the DEITY, the likeness of male and female, forming the unity of that creative and good principle from which proceeds the work of Father and Mother, manifested in Power to create, and Wisdom to bring forth into proper order, all the works of God. If it were not so, then man, who was created male and female, as father and mother, could not, with any propriety, be said to show forth the image and likeness of God. But the manifestation of Father and Mother in the Deity, being spiritual, does not imply two Persons, but, two incomprehensible beings of one spirit and substance, from whom proceed all Divine power and life.
5. The Almighty is manifested as proceeding from everlasting, as the first Source of all power, and the fountain of all good, the Creator of all good beings, and is the ETERNAL FATHER; and the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, who was the Co-worker with him, from everlasting, is the ETERNAL MOTHER, the bearing Spirit of all the works of God. This is according to the testimony of her own inspiration.
6. "Doth not Wisdom cry? She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city:" Unto you, Oh men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men. Hear; for I will speak excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the deep; when he established the clouds above; when he strengthened the fountains of the deep; when he gave the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the fountains of the earth; then was I by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." And again: "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is everyone that retaineth her."
7. The attributes of God are manifested by the light of Divine revelation, and confirmed by the testimony of eternal truth, through Christ, in this day of his second appearing, and may be stated in the following order.
8. These seven are the only inherent attributes which constitute the very nature and essence of God, as revealed to man, and from which all others proceed.
9. All other attributes or principles, with all the eternal perfection of his nature, and everything pertaining to Godliness, may be considered as revealed in, and proceeding from these seven. Justice, though an essential attribute of God, is so intimately connected with his righteousness, that they, in effect, form but one. Righteousness, is that which is inherently right and equitable in God. Justice is a display of that which is right and equitable towards his creatures. Mercy is also an essential attribute; but it proceeds from goodness and love: for wherever God, from his infinite goodness and love, administers his gifts in tender compassion to the needs of his creatures, there is a display of mercy. Understanding and knowledge are the operations of Wisdom and Light, without which there could be no understanding nor knowledge.
10. As to the terms omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, so much used among theologists, and which they consider as terms expressive of Divine Attributes, it may be proper to remark that, omnipotence is only another name for Almighty Power; and that omniscience implies a knowledge of all things, and of course, proceeds from Wisdom and Light. Omnipresence cannot properly be called an attribute. Undoubtedly, "the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good;" but God's essential presence cannot be in any evil work. Some talk of God's infinity, eternity and unchangeableness as essential attributes but this seems to be a distinction in terms, more calculated to bewilder the mind than to enlighten the understanding. By a little reflection we may easily perceive that, if "God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his Being," which all must admit, then all his attributes must, of necessity, be infinite, all must be eternal, and all unchangeable; and hence arises his independence of all other beings, and his sovereignty over all.
11. Truth is the declarative attribute of God, which proceeds from all his other attributes, and by which they are all declared and made manifest, and without which man could know nothing of God. "Thy word is truth." In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the truth, was manifested the real character of God: "For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead (or Deity) bodily." That is, in him was manifested the very nature of those attributes, and in this sense, God dwelleth in him. We read that, "Our God is a consuming fire." This includes every attribute of God; and these, being all manifested by the truth, operate like fire, and will finally consume and destroy, as far as its operation extends, whatever is contrary to the nature of God. It is also declared in the scriptures, that "God is a Spirit;" or rather, according to the original, God is Spirit. All his attributes are spiritual: He is that infinite and eternal Fountain whence proceeds all spiritual blessings to all his creatures. Hence he is the only proper object of spiritual worship. "God is Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth."
12. It is worthy of notice that the seven attributes, already mentioned as inherent in the nature of God, have been particularly figured out, in many remarkable instances, both in God's works of creation and providence. All God's works are a manifestation of these attributes; all scripture and divine revelation bear testimony to them. They are "the seven Spirits of God," which were represented by John, as "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." It is by the operation of these only, that anything of God can be seen; and without these, nothing could ever be discovered or known of him: for no other light ever comes from God, but through the operation of these seven attributes. Hence the foundation of the number seven, so often used in scripture, in representing the works of God and sacred things.
13. "And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." It is well known that the Lamb is a title which, in the language of scripture, is often applied to Jesus Christ. A horn, in the figurative style of the prophets, signifies power or strength. These seven horns of the Lamb represent the power or strength of those seven Spirits or attributes of God, by which all his works are performed. The seven eyes represent their spiritual light and discernment. This vision of John clearly shows that in Christ, is manifested the brightness of his Father's glory; and that in and through him, are displayed all those attributes, by which he is able to reveal the true nature and character of God, and to declare his name and perform his work through the world; and in this manner, and for this purpose, are "the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth."
14. By this we may see, not only that all the manifestations of God to man are revealed in and through Christ; but also that all the gifts and blessings which come from God, and are sent forth to man, are evidently the operations of the Spirit and substance of these attributes: and certain it is, that nothing which is inconsistent with these attributes can ever flow from God.
15. John Saw in vision, the Son of God walking in the midst of "seven golden candlesticks," and holding in his right hand "seven stars." The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches." This vision has a direct reference to the same foundation upon which these seven churches were built, and upon which the true church of Christ must ever be built. Stars are emblematic of the heavenly light and glory of the angelic order, which is founded and established, under the government of Christ, on these seven principles. The Son of God, being in possession of the seven Spirits or attributes of God, and having power and dominion over the seven churches of Asia, which were nourished and supported by these attributes, may, by a figurative representation, be said to hold the seven stars in his right hand, and to walk in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
16. The seven seals, which were opened by the Lamb, have their foundation in these seven attributes, or Spirits of God: for the true nature and operation of these attributes were never known until revealed by the Lamb. The seven angels with the seven trumpets; and also the seven angels with the seven vials of the wrath of God, all show the same order which appears in all God's works.
17. The work of God, from the beginning, all came forth in this order. The heavens and the earth were created in six days, and were ended and blessed and sanctified on the seventh; because on that day God rested from all his work. And thus were the seven days of the week established by the Creator, conformable to the seven attributes of the Deity. The sacred institution of the sabbath, by which the seventh day was set apart and sanctified by Divine authority, as a day of blessing and rest, was not only a standing memorial to the chosen tribes of Israel, of God's having rested from his work on that day; but it was also figurative of the final blessing and rest of the saints, which will be effected by the final display of God's attribute of Righteousness and Justice, when "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun, in the Kingdom of their Father."
18. Finally: Man, both in his natural and moral constitution, was created in the same order. His five natural senses, together with the two faculties of speech and understanding, make seven, and constitute him a natural man. These seven natural faculties are more or less perceptible throughout the animal creation. In the two last, however, man evidently stands preeminent; yet these faculties are all natural and corporeal, depending on the life of the animal body, and the constitutional soundness of the parts they occupy. But man, in his moral constitution, is also endowed with seven rational powers or faculties, corresponding with the seven attributes in Deity. These being implanted in him, according to the spiritual order of his creation, properly constitute his rational soul, and bear witness of the true nature of the Creator. In this sense, man was created in the image and likeness of God, and was constituted God's representative in the natural creation. This is agreeable to the testimony of Solomon: "Wisdom hath built her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars." This evidently alludes to the seven rational powers of man, who was eminently designed to be the house or habitation of Wisdom.
19. Thus man, in his sphere of action, became as God, capable of exercising to good purposes, and to the extent of his limited capacity; all the attributes of God, with which he was endowed by his Creator; and also capable, by the perversion of his natural faculties to base purposes, of darkening and debasing his moral attributes, and thus rendering his rational soul subservient to his animal propensities. Herein he was made independent, as to his choice of good and evil, being left as free to act within the narrow limits of his sphere, as God his Creator. Hence arose his accountability. For, being in his primeval creation, formed by the Divine agency of God, from whom he received his natural and moral faculties, and by whom he was placed as God's representative on earth, it was absolutely necessary that he should improve those powers and faculties to the honor and glory of his Creator, and in obedience to his will, as the only means of gaining honor to himself, and of answering the end of his creation.
20. God having constituted man a reasonable, intelligent being, capable of knowing and doing his will, addresses him as such. "Come now, and let us reason together saith the Lord: If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." Man is not required to believe nor practice that which is contrary to the plain and obvious dictates of right reason. Right reason has its foundation in the acknowledged attributes of God; otherwise it is not right reason: for no one can with propriety call that right which is known to be contrary to righteousness.
21. In all the works of God there is a perfect consistency, and all his manifestations to man are perfectly reasonable. The operations of all his attributes are displayed in the most perfect harmony and correspondence with each other. "It is impossible for "God to lie:" for he is "a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he." It is therefore impossible that he should devise any plan, fix any decree, or perform any work which would operate against anyone of his attributes. His attribute of Power can never operate against that of Wisdom. His justice, which necessarily proceeds from Righteousness, can never be sacrificed to mercy, nor can mercy be sacrificed to justice. Nor can his Power, with all his sovereignty and independence, or anything pertaining to his character, ever operate against Truth, Goodness, Light, Holiness, or Love.
22. The want of just conceptions concerning the character of God, as manifested in his attributes, has been the cause of the many different opinions which prevail among mankind, respecting divine things. Hence it is that people in the pursuit of religion, are so often led to adopt false principles, and establish themselves upon a wrong foundation. And false principles, when once adopted as divine truths, have a delusive tendency; and however inconsistent with the plain dictates of right reason, they are very apt to obtain a stronghold in the mind, and, like an inveterate disease, are very difficult to eradicate, especially when supported by the authority of great names, and confirmed by length of time.
23. We have a striking example of the truth of this remark in that unqualified doctrine maintained by many, who affirm, that God, as an independent, Almighty Sovereign, has a just right to do what he pleases, and can, consistent with that right, sentence to eternal misery, many millions of souls who never were favored with the light of the gospel. This soul-sickening doctrine, which had its origin in the regions of antichristian darkness, has caused thousands, and perhaps millions, to blaspheme the very name of God, as a Being of infinite injustice and cruelty. The Almighty has truly a right to do what he will; but it is impossible that he should ever will anything which is inconsistent with his attributes of Righteousness, or with any attribute of his nature: for this would at once destroy the harmony of his attributes, and render him an inconsistent and changeable Being.
24. All doctrines which represent God as making any difference in the future state of his rational creatures, respecting their salvation or damnation, without a special regard to their works, and all the reasons advanced in support of such doctrines, are fallacious and unfounded, and ought to be rejected as inconsistent with the attribute of righteousness and justice. Such doctrines, being fraught with the greatest possible evil to the creature, are equally inconsistent with goodness. They also operate against the attribute of light; for no doctrine ever produced a more darkening and discouraging effect upon the mind of man. To suppose the fate of man irrevocably fixed, must necessarily discourage all attempts to alter it by any good which it is in his power to do. Such a doctrine must not only greatly obscure the benevolent and glorious character of the Deity, in the eyes of his rational creatures; but render him more like a tyrannical devil who delights in the misery of his creatures; than like a good, merciful and gracious God, " who hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
25. All doctrines which maintain that gloomy opinion, that a man, when called by the gospel, may be in doubt as to the knowledge of such a call, and cannot positively see and know his duty, nor discern the certainty of the way of life and salvation, or that he can be a follower of Christ and not know it, are inconsistent with the attributes of light and knowledge. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts." Jesus saith, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Hence the very message of the gospel to souls was designed "To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." "If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." Here is neither doubt nor supposition expressed, but a positive declaration of Jesus Christ, who hath declared himself "the way, the truth and the life."
26. Hence it is evident that the plain and obvious reason why so many professing Christians of the present day, do not positively know the way, the truth and the life, is, they do not do the will of God: for those who do his will, are in the way; and to do his will is indeed the only way. Therefore, those who express such doubts, are evidently witnesses against themselves, that they are not in the way.
27. The doctrine of christian sinners, or the idea of Christians living in sin, so strenuously advocated by many, is utterly inconsistent with every attribute of God. All doctrines which imply that real Christians cannot live without sin, are inconsistent with the attributes of power and goodness, and indeed with every Divine attribute. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, nor known him. He that committeth sin is of the devil." The opinion which prevails so extensively among mankind, that no man, not even a real Christian, is able to live without committing sin, is one of the most destructive errors that ever proceeded from the powers of darkness. It strikes directly against a life of holiness, and is calculated to discourage all attempts in the pursuit of virtue: for what inducement can any man have to pursue that which he believes it impossible to obtain? He who imbibes the principle, that it is impossible to obtain power over sin, will soon find that every spring of his carnal nature is ready to cherish the deception, and check the reproaches of conscience.
28. If, then, this principle is so agreeable to the "carnal mind," which the apostle declares to be "enmity against God;" surely it cannot proceed from God. The very work which Christ came into the world to do, was to take away sin, "to save his people from their sins." Was then the object of his mission unattainable? Was he sent into the world to undertake a work which he was unable to accomplish? By no means. His own testimony proves that his power was sufficient for the work. "All power is given unto me in Heaven and in earth." If then, all power is given him, and if the very object of his mission was "to save his people from their sins," why are not these christian sinners saved from sin? for if they are Christians indeed, they must be Christ's people. Besides; he has promised explicitly; "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Again; "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
29. Thus it appears that Christ's power is sufficient; and surely no one will pretend that he is unfaithful in his promises: What then? is he deficient in goodness and love? By no means. All professing Christians will readily acknowledge his goodness and love. Is he unable to discern the devices and stratagems of Satan, so as to counteract them and protect his people? Certainly not: for this would exclude the attributes of wisdom and light; and the apostle Paul declared Christ to be "the power of God, and the wisdom of God;" and Christ himself, as before observed, testified, saying, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Here we find nothing deficient on the part of Christ; yet these sinning christians still continue to walk in darkness and live in sin, and plead the impossibility of doing otherwise; and yet they name the name of Christ, and claim the character of Christians! But what title have they to this character? If the testimony of Christ be true, they cannot possibly be his followers, while they live in sin and walk in darkness.
30. The attribute of Divine Love is readily acknowledged by all the professors of Christianity; and many, even among these sinning Christians, profess to share bountifully in the love of God. But if they really possess the true love of God, which is indeed the most certain evidence that they are beloved of God, why does not this love keep them from sinning? "If ye love me, keep my commandments," Said Jesus; and surely there can be no sin in keeping his commandments. "No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly," Do these Christians walk uprightly, or does God withhold his goodness? Surely they cannot impeach the godliness of God. If they really possess his love, they must also possess his goodness: for these are so intimately connected together, that they cannot be separated. Why then are they not delivered from sin? Can sin abide with God's love and goodness? Can righteousness have fellowship with unrighteousness? Can light have communion with darkness? As well might Satan dwell in a tabernacle of holiness.
31. The Spirit of God is holy; but sin is unholy. Hence the holiness of God is opposed to sin; therefore, wherever the Spirit of holiness operates, it must effectually exclude sin; unless where sin is more powerful than holiness; and there it must equally exclude holiness: for they can never abide together in any soul. Hence we must conclude that sin has dominion over these sinning Christians, being more powerful in them than the Spirit of holiness: for that which is the most powerful must have the dominion. But holiness must then be excluded: for they cannot dwell together. And if the sins of these Christians exclude God's holiness, they must exclude his goodness and love, yea, and his righteousness also, together with every attribute pertaining to the nature of God. If this be done, what then becomes of their Christianity?
32. The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, expresses himself in these words: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" and then adds, "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." Thus it appears that some of these Corinthian Christians to whom Paul addressed himself, had, at least, a measure of the Spirit of God dwelling in them; and it was evidently the apostle's desire to keep them in the Spirit of God. Hence his warning; "If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." Did these Christians then live in sin? Certainly not while the Spirit of God dwelt in them. Why then cannot Christians of the present day live without sin? Was God more partial to the primitive Christians than he now is to modern Christians? This would exclude his attribute of righteousness.
33. "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Does he deal unjustly with his people? Does he hold out promises of reward to the faithful and upright, who are willing to bear the cross of Christ, and deny themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust; and, at the same time, withhold from them his power and goodness, with all the means of gaining power and victory over sin; and yet threaten destruction to the soul that defileth himself with sin? To suppose that God can deal thus with his people is, in effect, to deny, not only his attribute of righteousness, but also his power and wisdom, his goodness and love, his mercy and truth, and in short, it is to deny everything that pertains to the holy Spirit of God.
34. Thus it appears that the impious and soul-destroying doctrine of christian sinners, or the impossibility of living without sin, excludes every attribute of Deity, and renders Christ's mission into the world a mere nullity, and throws the responsibility of the creature's sin directly back upon the Creator. But let no man deceive himself: God is not mocked. The sinner can never escape responsibility in this way. The righteousness of God will yet be displayed before all people; and the living power of eternal truth will manifest every attribute of God to be what it really is, to the shame and confusion of sinners, and to the destruction of all their works.
35. Therefore, let all those Christians who plead the impossibility of living without sin, faithfully examine the subject, and they will find that the deficiency is not in God, who is All-sufficient; that it is not in Christ in whom dwells the fullness of the Divine attributes; but in their own faithless hearts. They do not believe it possible to live without Sin; because they have never received that power. And why have they never received it? Because they do not "ask in prayer, believing that they shall receive;" because they do not faithfully and honestly take up a full and final cross against sin; because they do not believe in the promises of Christ; because they do not abide in Christ; and because his word does not abide in them. These are the true causes why they cannot live without sin.
36. "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Then what sort of Christians must these be who are so destitute of faith? Surely they cannot be faithful followers of Christ: for they do not believe it possible for anyone to live without sin; therefore they content themselves with living in it; and this they find to be most agreeable to their carnal inclinations. Thus they cherish their own delusions. Though such Christians will often ascribe holiness to the Lord with their tongues, and declare his goodness in the highest strains of eloquence; yet in their practice they will deny both. Even in their prayers, they will extol to the heavens the glory of his righteousness and justice, his mercy and truth; while in their doctrines, they implicitly deny in him, the very existence of these attributes.
37. "Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity." Such, and such only; are known of God in the great work of salvation; and such only are sealed with the Lamb, and stand on Mount Zion.
- End of Part III, Chapter 1 -
THE FAITH AND PRINCIPLES OF THE NEW CREATION.
A few Remarks concerning the true nature of Perfection.
1. MANY controversies have been excited and maintained among the professors of Christianity, concerning the doctrine of Christian perfection; and modern professors of religion have most generally rejected the doctrine, as unreasonable and unscriptural. Hence nothing seems to excite contempt and opposition sooner than to talk of attaining to a state of perfection in this life. This opposition evidently proceeds from two causes; first, a wrong conception of the true nature of perfection; and second, the impossibility of attaining to it while living in any known sin, as has been proved by the general experience of professed Christians. And, indeed, if it be impossible to live without sin, as many suppose, then surely it must be impossible to be perfect Christians.
2. But those who profess to believe the Bible to be the word of God, ought to acknowledge the testimony of Jesus Christ which is contained in the Bible; for surely that cannot be unscriptural. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Would Christ require anything impossible or unreasonable of his people? Certainly not. Then perfection must be attainable; for Christ does positively require it.
3. The doctrine so frequently taught, and so extensively believed among mankind, "That no one can be perfect in this life," originated in the dark kingdom of Antichrist, and is admirably calculated to ease the conscience, and encourage slothfulness and indifference in the duties of religion; for who will seek after that which he believes to be unattainable? But a little attention to this subject will show the inconsistency of such a belief.
4. ONE. God who is infinite in righteousness and goodness, can never require impossibilities of any of his creatures. If, then, perfection were not attainable in this life, God never would require it. Yet he does require it. He required it of Abraham: "Walk before me and be thou perfect."2 He required it of the Israelites under the law: "Ye shall be holy; for I am holy."3 Perfection is, therefore, attainable.
5. TWO. It has been attained. God declared Job to be "a perfect and upright man."4 Noah was also declared to be "a just man, and perfect in his generations."5 The apostle Paul saith, "We speak wisdom to them that are perfect." And again: "Let as many as be perfect, be thus minded."6 Hence it is evident that there were those in his day who were perfect, according to the work of that day. Perfection has therefore been attained in this life.
6. THREE. Anything may, with strict propriety, be called perfect, which perfectly answers the purpose for which it was designed. A circle may be called a perfect circle, when it is perfectly round; an apple may be called perfect, when it is perfectly sound, having no defect in it; and so of a thousand other things. A child who is perfectly obedient to all the requirements of its parents, is, in that respect, a truly perfect child: for what more can justly be required of it? Yet that same child, when grown to manhood, would be capable of doing much more than he could in his childhood; and, of course, more would be required of him. So when a man comes up to all the requirements of God, he then stands perfectly justified in the sight of God, and is, in that sense, a perfect man, and walks before God with a perfect heart. Hence we may see that perfection, in this sense, (which is all that can be required) instead of being unattainable, is perfectly easy.
7. The idea which most people have of perfection, is a state in which there can be no increase for the better. This is a mistaken idea; such a state never will be attained, neither in time nor eternity: for the very life of all things which have life, whether vegetable, animal or spiritual, consists in an increasing growth of some kind or other. Stop that increase or growth in anything, and its life will immediately begin to decay, and it must at length die. So it is with the soul of every true Christian; if the increase and growth of the soul in the knowledge and nature of godliness ceases, its spiritual life must begin to decrease and die. Therefore, though a soul in the progress of faithful obedience to the increasing light and work of God, may become divested of all sinful desires and propensities; yet his life and happiness must and will consist in a further and progressive growth in the knowledge and nature of God, to the endless ages of eternity. And yet a soul who is perfectly obedient to the revealed will of God, is equally perfect before God, in every step of his travel, according to his capacity and God's requirement.
8. Thus the real nature of perfection, when applied to a Christian life, consists in nothing more nor less than in doing what God requires of us, which is to improve all our faculties in doing good, according to the best of our understanding and capacity: and in so doing every person who sincerely desires and rightly pursues it, may attain to perfection.
- End of Part VII, Chapter 7 -
More Excerpts from the "Millennial Church"
Index of More "Shaker Manuscripts On-Line "