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Proposed in Panoplist No. 27, page
118, by INQUIRER.
In the first place let it be considered, that the associations of Congregational ministers in this commonwealth are all perfectly voluntary. They are not restricted to neighbourhoods, counties, or any other local boundaries, but are constituted according to the choice and agreement of individual ministers.
Let it be further remarked, that as these voluntary associations are formed for particular purposes, the members are under no obligation, which can hinder them from joining other societies of clergymen formed for other purposes. Nor indeed are they under any obligation, which can prevent them from asking and obtaining an honourable dismission from one association for the sake of belonging to another of the same kind, where their convenience or their satisfaction can be better consulted. This has often been done, and has never been considered as censurable or inconsistent with the bonds of a voluntary ministerial association.
Now if Inquirer, or any other clergyman, belongs to an association of ministers, whose views on the subject of GENERAL AsSOCIATION differ from his, he may, it is conceived, adopt one or the other of the following methods, as particular circumstances shall render most expedient.
1. He may still continue a member of the association, to which he has belonged, and pro
mote, as actively as ever, the laudable purposes of it, and yet, with a higher cbject in view, join with others in like circumstances in forming a new body for the express purpose of promoting the design and enjoying the advantages of the GENERAL AssociATION. Or,
2. He may obtain a dismission from the association, to which he has belonged, and seck admission into another regular association, already formed, which has or will have a connexion with the GENERAL. AssoCIATION. Or,
3. He may relinquish his pres-, ent connexion, and unite with others, who are disengaged, in constituting a new body, for all the common purposes of ministerial associations, as well as for the general object particularly in, view.
It is hoped that, in every measure which is pursued with ref erence to the great object of the General Association, ministers, in the circumstances abovementioned, will unite wisdom with decision. If they do so, it is presumed they will not be severely censured, even by those, who have not the same views respecting the general object.
They, who have not joined any particular association, may without embarrassment form any connexion, which they judge ex, pedient.
For reasons, which need not be now mentioned, it is deemed very important, that this subject should be scasonably attended to, so that the next general meeting, being in a central part of the state, may comprehend as many particular associations as possible.
As a new and animating argument in favour of the General Association, the following information is communicated.
Extract of a paper lately published in London on the subject of the "general union of Congregational ministers and churches throughout England and Wales."
"In the month of May, 1806, a number of ministers and members of Congregational churches, both of town and country, assembled by appointment in London, to confer on the subject of establishing a general and explicit union of the whole body of that denomination. It had occurred to many of them, that although the principle of the independency of every church ought to be inviolably maintained; yet, that by cultivating a better acquaintance with each other, by communicating mutual information, and occasional advice, and by an extended cooperation, the interest of the kingdom of Christ in general, and the prosperity of this class of Christians in particular, might be more effectually promoted. "After much interesting conyersation, the meeting unanimously agreed, that such a union appeared to them to be highly desirable; and that the Board of Congregational Ministers in London, should be requested to prepare a plan for that purpose. In consequence of this request, the Board took up the business, and appointed a committee to sketch the outlines of a plan of union. These outlines were drawn, and presented to the
Board in March, 1807; and by them approved and accepted.
On Monday, May 18, that meeting was held at the Rev. Mr. Gaffee's meeting house, New Broad Street, and was numerously attended. The plan was then taken into consideration, and various sentiments on the subject were advanced by the brethren. Some objections brought forward by very respectto the projected union able friends, which seemed to arise chiefly from a misapprehension of the design, or from the manner in which it had been expressed ; other objections seemed to originate in that laudable jealousy, which dissenters the assumption of unscriptural ought ever to maintain against authority in the church of Christ, or the formation of any institution which might, in its issue, endanger the liberty with which Christ has made us free. These objections, it is hoped, in the course of discussion, were satisfactorily removed, or considerably weakened; and the plan, which, perhaps, through excess of brevity, had been left somewhat obscure, obtained further and was cordially adopted by the explanation and enlargement, meeting."
England about the middle of the In another paper, published in present year, devout, notice is taken of the remarkable fact that, at the very time when Congre gational ministers and churches throughout England and Wales are engaged in establishing a general union, measures successfully adopted to promote a similar object in Massachusetts. RESPONDENT.
ON THE GRADUAL AND
INSIDIOUS PROGRESS OF SIN.
Ir is a common saying, that no man becomes very wicked at once. Men are prepared by degrees for the last acts of iniquity. Ask the murderer how he came to imbrue his hands in blood. He will tell you, that he was first light and thoughtless, then loose and extravagant; and that, having thus brought himself into difficulties, having also associated himself with bad company, he was tempted to some little act of injustice, which he meant, perhaps, to repair, and certainly to commit but for once. The fraud was resorted to as the means of deliverance from urgent distress; but the devil having tempted him to perpetrate this single act, he was induced to repeat the crime, even though a little less pressed by want; so that the same act under these new circumstances had more sin in it. At last, murder became necessary to conceal theft, and seemed only to be a part of the same iniquity.
Ask, in like manner, the unhappy woman, who has not only forfeited her character, but has lost all regard to decency, and whose very trade is that of corrupting others, how she arrived at so great a pitch of wickedness; she will tell you, that it was by slow degrees, At first she secretly indulged improper thoughts; a too free behaviour followed, improper conversation was permitted, little liberties were taken; and if a parent or
friend reproved her, she pleaded that these liberties were insig nificant. She began by trifling with temptation, and now she is the most abandoned of her species. Take, in short, any char acter that is now infamous; his history, if he were to tell it to you, would be the same. What abandoned sinners are some men; what cheats, what liars, what blasphemers of God, what despisers of all that is good! Is thy servant a dog, said Hazael, that he should commit this thing? Hazael could not believe his nature to be capable of the crime which the prophet told him that he should perpetrate.' The sins of some men are so dreadful, that we stand astonished at them. We look on these persons as beings of another nature; as scarcely human. Alas! the wickedest man that lives is only one who has fallen by little and little; he has been, perhaps, for some time, proceeding in this downward path. That vile wretch, whom you loathe, was once perhaps in nearly the same condition as you; he had a conscience which smote him when he did evil; he had a general regard to God and godliness; he had a blushing cheek, and a modest look; a habit of kneeling down in worship, or in seeming worship, in the same manner as you.
Let us explain this point very familiarly. A child, let it be supposed, is taught to say his
prayers he is instructed that God's eye is upon him; he is habituated to public as well as private worship, and his conscience yet is tender. He goes, perhaps, to school, where some older and more hardened boy is found to laugh at prayer; and this schoolfellow sleeps with him. The child is ashamed to be seen praying. He says his prayers behind the curtain, or perhaps after he is in bed. Instead of taking a regular time for prayer, he now becomes slack in this duty, and often puts it off till a convenient opportunity. Instead of praying to God both in the morning and at night, he prays only in the morning, or only at night; and instead of praying every morning, he is hindered by some interruptions, once, twice, or many times in the week. Thus he falls gradually. And now, perhaps, he thinks it sufficient to pay his devotions at church; possibly also he puts up a few words in the way of prayer when seized by sickness, when frightened by some extraordinary calamity, or overcome by a more than common sin. As his years advance, and as his parents or master exert less influence over him, he grows lax in respect to his observation of the Sabbath; he rises late on a Sunday, and he is late at church; he is hurried by worldly business, and has hardly time, as he pretends, to worship God. The most trifling excuses are now sufficient to detain him from public worship. He is not sufficiently dressed; he has a cold or a little head-ache, and there is no convenient seat for him. He goes now and then to
church in the morning, but not always in the evening, and, after a time, in the morning only, and not always even then. The Sabbath now is employed in more trifling conversation than formerly. Instead of regularly reading the Bible or some religious book, he applies himself to religion only when the humour takes him. The humour takes him less and less frequently. His prayers and his Sabbaths being neglected, the thought of God dwells less and less on his mind. Worldly business or pleasure possesses him. Any thing but God is in his thoughts. He can spend hours without thinking of God. By degrees, whole days pass by without a reflection respecting his Maker.
Habits of swearing often grow on a person in the same gradual manner. First he learns to use an improper word, such as, O Lord, or O God-Lord bless me, or Lord help me; and then he proceeds a little further. He sits much among swearing persons, and then his sense of the sin is weakened. He swears at first only when in a great pas sion, and afterwards when in a little passion; and at last when he is in no passion. Men fall in this respect very imperceptibly. Let us notice the unbelief which is at the same time increasing. A man who uses the name of God to swear by it is likely to grow hardened in unbelief. Some be gin by exercising their wit on religious things. They joke at the particularity of some good man, which they couple with his religion; and having first mocked those who are good, for their infirmities, they proceed to mock
at what is not their infirmity; they mock at their very goodness. They now grow merry as often as they speak on religious subjects; they joke about passages of scripture; at length they make a joke of all scripture, and there is no road by which men advance more rapidly to a profane, unbelieving spirit than this. What we often make the subject of our merriment, we cannot at any time much reverence. It is thus that both the holy scriptures, and every other thing which is sacred, become the subject of a man's raillery during his cups; and this profaneness is perhaps at length coupled with indecent and licentious conversation, which is the highest pitch of profaneness.
So also in respect to every vice which can be named, the steps by which men advance are small. The glutton or drunkard first is a little nice respecting his meat and drink; he values the pleasure of a meal too highly; his meat must be of the best kind; his liquor strong and highly flavoured. He grows more and more curious in his taste. He talks much of his wine and of his dishes, and sits long at his table; his meals are more in number than is necessary for health; he also takes a glass of wine between them. He finds that he has more and more desire for this interyening cordial: the habit grows; the stomach is more and more craving; he becomes first a tippler, and then an occasional drunkard, and then a thorough drunkard.
In respect also to dishonesty, a man's fall is commonly grad
ual. Some begin by borrowing what they partly mean to restore, but what they know that they very possibly may never be able to pay, though they do not say so; and they borrow more and more money, though they have less and less chance of returning it. Some begin with taking a very little matter; it is too little, as they think, to be noticed by the owner, or by their own consciences. Having taken one trifle they add another; they take a little of the smaller kind of fruit, and from small fruit they proceed to larger fruit, and from fruit to many other little things. Having taken a few trifles, in order to eat themselves, they take a few more, in order to give them away, and they soon find that they can obtain some favour in return. By degrees they take, in order to sell; and thus they are perfected in the trade of stealing.
Lying is a sin which also grows on us by degrees. What is a lie? Is every false word a lie? Is it a lie to call a thing greater or less than it is? I answer, that he who uses himself to speak too largely, and to assert positively what he knows but in part, will learn, if he indulges this temper, to speak still more largely, and to pronounce still more positively, till he loses his respect for truth. Endeavour then to measure every word you speak; be correct, and think not that this is a small matter.
A man's general temper is also apt to fail in the same gradual manner. How many have indulged some little, selfish, peevish, or fretful humour, and as they have continually thought only for