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Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1836, by ALEXANDER W. MITCHELL, M.D.,
in the office of the Clerk of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Parishioner. I am glad to see you, Mr. M., and should be happy if you could afford the time for a little conversation on the present state of our church. During a late visit to one of our principal cities, I found the state of the church to be an absorbing subject, and, as I mingled much with respectable individuals of both parties, I had an opportunity of ascertaining that the points of difference between them, were much more serious than I had imagined. I feel constrained also to confess that the objections, which I have heard urged against the old method of stating the doctrines of the gospel, have, in a considerable degree, shaken my confidence, and reduced me, at length, to doubt what form of doctrine I ought to believe.
Pastor. I regret, Mr. C., that your belief in the Calvinistic doctrines, as generally exhibited in Presbyterian pulpits, should, in the least degree, have been affected; for these, according to my conviction, are the doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures; but I am not surprised, because your reception of them, in the first instance, was probably not so much the result of examination, as of mere education. You believed, because all around you believed; and hence you never felt the necessity of fortifying your position by arguments derived from the word of God. It is lamentably true that many profess orthodory who cannot render one reason for their peculiar faith. The consequences of this easy credulity are readily foreseen. The first contact with error, if it be advocated with plausibility, unsettles the mind, and unless there be an immediate and careful examination of the grounds of our faith, an entire revolution in opinion may take place.
Parishioner. I acknowledge, that I have received my creed too much on trust, and that I found myself incompetent to defend it, when it was ingeniously assailed. My present unhappy state of doubt, however, has made me sincerely anxious to know in what the truth consists; and I think I shall not be so easily convinced as I have formerly been. Pastor. I commend your caution; but still you must not verge to the opposite extreme, and instead of being too credulous, become proof against argument. Parishioner. My mind is open to conviction, and I can sincerely say, show me the truth and I will heartily embrace it. Since, however, I have heard the doctrines of our church so differently stated by men who have been educated theologians, you will admit that it is natural that I should feel some difficulty in forming a definite opinion. Besides, theologians of both parties appeal, with the same seeming confidence, to the standards of our church as expressing their views. Sometimes, therefore, I am induced to believe that the differences are material and real; and sometimes that they are but different modes of expressing the same thing. Pastor. That there exists a difference of opinion none can doubt, and from a careful examination of the subject, I am fully convinced that it is more than a contest about words; it is a substantial difference of views respecting the cardinal doctrines of the gospel. I am aware that many affirm, that both parties alike admit the great facts of religion, and only disagree in the philosophy of those facts, or in their modes of explaining them; but if words and theories have any meaning, the language and theories of the two parties in the church, convey essentially different ideas. The Calvinistic system is a nicely adjusted and intelligible system; it forms a whole, each part explaining every other part; the rejection or modification of any portion of it, necessarily leads to the rejection or modification of every other portion; and accordingly we find the innovations of the present day have been thrown into a regular system, which, in all its great features, is distinct from Calvinism. Both cannot be true; one must be false. If it be your desire, I shall be pleased to review the doctrines in dispute, not in the spirit of controversy, but in a meek reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Parishioner. This is precisely what I desire, and while I shall regard your statements with deference, I will freely communicate my difficulties as they arise.