Read PRELIMINARY ADDRESS of The Essential Faith of the Universal Church Deduced from the Sacred Records, free online book, by Harriet Martineau, on ReadCentral.com.

As Christians addressing Christians, we, whose faith is called Unitarianism, invite you, our Roman Catholic brethren, to join with us in investigating the origin and true nature of that Gospel which we agree in believing worthy of the deepest study, the most unremitting interest, and the highest regard.  We agree in believing every Christian to be bound to promote the welfare of his race to the utmost of his ability; and that that welfare is best promoted by the extensive spread and firm establishment of Divine truth.  We agree in believing that all other gifts which the Father of men has showered on human kind are insignificant in comparison with the dispensation of grace:  or rather, that their value is unrecognised till interpreted by it.  We alike feel that the material frame of the universe, fair as it is, is but as a silent picture till a living beauty is breathed into it, and a divine harmony evolved from it by its being made the exponent of God’s purposes of grace.  We alike feel that the round of life is dull and tame, and its vicissitudes wearisome and irritating, till it becomes clear that they are preparative to a higher state.  We alike feel that worldly pursuits, and even intellectual employments, are objectless and uninteresting, till they can be referred to purposes whose complete fulfilment must take place beyond the grave.  We alike feel how pervading, how perpetual is the influence of Gospel principles in ennobling every incident, in hallowing every vicissitude of life; in equalizing human emotions; in animating the sympathies, in vivifying the enjoyments, and blunting the sorrows, of all who adopt those principles in full conviction of the understanding, and in perfect sincerity of heart.  We agree in feeling how the whole aspect of existence changes, as the power and beauty of the Gospel become more influential; ­as we learn where to deposit our cares, where to fix our hope, what to prize as a real possession, and what to regard as but loss in comparison of our inestimable gain.  We feel in common how endurance may become a privilege, and earthly humiliation our highest honor, when sustained in the spirit, and incurred for the sake, of the Gospel.  Feeling thus alike respecting the value of a common possession, desiring in common that all our race should be partakers of it, making it the most earnest of our prayers that we may receive it in its purity and employ it righteously, why should we not help one another to apprehend it and hold it firmly?  We know, from the records of history, how the adherents of your faith have so prized it as to sacrifice all things for it; how Catholic confessors have borne long and painful testimony, and how Catholic martyrs have triumphantly sustained the last proof of the strength of their convictions.  We can refer you to similar examples among those who believed as we believe; and neither you nor we can doubt, that should occasions of self-sacrifice again arise, every true Christian in your body and in ours would show once more what the Gospel can do in divesting the world of its allurements and death of its terrors.  Why then should we not congratulate each other on our common hope?  Having laid hold on the same anchor of the soul, why should we not rejoice in each other’s strength?  And, differing as we do in the mode of holding a common privilege, why should we not reason together to ascertain where the difference lies, whence it arose, and by what means it may be obviated?  Though you and we may not regard variations in Christian faith with an equal degree of regret and dread, we yield not to you or to any on earth in our appreciation of the value of truth, and in our desire that it may become the common possession of our race.  Therefore it is that we now propose to you an investigation into its principles; and therefore it is that we seek the removal of all impediments to our joining in hand as we already do in heart, in bringing those who are astray to the fold of the true Shepherd.

The same means of ascertaining Divine truth are in your hands and in ours, if, as your best writers declare and as we believe, you have free access to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Our versions of those Scriptures are, it is true, not exactly alike.  It appears to us that yours are, in various minor, and in some considerable points, less correct than our own:  but fair investigation will settle this difference as well as others; and if not, such variations constitute no insurmountable hindrance.  The essential truth of the Gospel is not involved in any or all of those modes of expression in which our respective versions of the Scriptures differ.  The difficulties which are thus originated are of very inferior moment to those by which our separation is perpetuated, and which depend on our application of the spirit rather than our interpretation of the letter of the sacred records.  When we can as perfectly agree in our opinions concerning the person of Christ, as we do in our veneration and gratitude for his holiness and love; when we shall mutually rejoice in the universality as well as in the blessedness of the salvation he brought, we shall not dispute respecting the letter of some of his instructions, or long lament the difficulty of reconciling some apparent discrepancies.  If, as you declare, the Scriptures are in common use among you, they must be allowed to be the rule of your faith as well as of your practice; they must be intended for your instruction as well as your confirmation; they must supply subjects of thought as well as of feeling.  Do us the justice then, thus to use them as often as you hear us appeal to them.  Compare our interpretation of the Gospel with the records themselves.  Compare our deductions from facts with the original statement of those facts, and with all which throws light on them from the history, the discourses, the epistles which follow.  To whatever common ground there is between us, let us repair; and since that common ground is the very spot where the living waters first sprang up, there can be no doubt but that a patient search will bring vital refreshment to us all.

We know, brethren, that our mode of belief appears to you under the greatest possible disadvantage, as being, even more than Protestant religion generally, divested of the claims and graces of antiquity.  You regard our sect as newly formed from the dispersed elements of other sects which have melted away.  You find no mention of our heresy in the records of the middle ages, or only such hints of the doctrines now held by Unitarians as might serve as suggestions of our present opinions:  and you therefore naturally conclude that the parts of our faith to which you object are but of yesterday, and consequently the impious inventions of men.  If it were so, our present address would indeed be indefensible; our challenge to investigation would be an insult; our appeal to the Scriptures would be blasphemy.  But to shake your conviction of this assumed fact, to convince you if possible that the reverse is the fact, is the object of the exposition of our opinions which we now present to you, and of every effort to explain and defend our faith.  It is because we believe our religion to be primitive Christianity that we are attached to it as other Christians are to theirs.  It is because we feel that we can carry back our opinions to a remoter antiquity than other Churches, that we prefer them; and though they were completely hidden under the unauthorized institutions of the middle ages, we find no difficulty in establishing their identity with those which were diffused by the messengers and under the sanction of God.  He who sees a stream gushing forth from the cave, and can trace it back no further than the darkness whence it issues, may reasonably conclude that he stands near its source; but there may be a wayfarer who by observation and experience knows and can attest that this is no subsidiary spring, but the reappearance of a hidden stream, whose source is hallowed and whose current is inexhaustible.  We only ask you to listen to our evidence of this, and to admit it or not, as you shall be afterwards disposed.

We agree with you in your reverence for antiquity in respect of the faith; and desire nothing more than that by their comparative claims to antiquity our respective religions should be judged.  We feel that grace as well as authority is conferred by every evidence of long duration.  We can enter into your reverence for your doctrines, because they were held by Saints in cloisters which have crumbled to dust, by heroes and anchorites whose arms were the relics of centuries gone by, or whose rocky abodes have retained their sanctity for a thousand years.  We can understand your emotions on receiving sacraments or witnessing ceremonies which fostered the devotion of the saintly and the heroic of the olden time, and which filled the Christian temples abroad with music and fragrance, while in our land the smoke of Druidical sacrifices was ascending offensively to Heaven.  But we thus sympathise because we too refer our worship to ancient days.  Our hearts also thrill under the impulses which are propagated from afar.  We also delight in spiritual exercises, because they are sanctified by long-tried efficacy; and enjoy our devotion more, because the same hopes exhilarated, the same trust supported our spiritual kindred of the remotest Christian antiquity.  In our Churches we believe we feel the spirit of brotherhood which first gave to the believers one heart and one soul.  In the silence of our chambers, or amidst the solitudes of nature, we are open to the same incentives to prayer and praise which visited Peter on the house-top, and Paul amidst the perils of the sea.  When intent upon the words of life, we, like the Apostle, are impelled to exclaim, ’O! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ And were the times of persecution to recur, we doubt not but that, at the very stake, the consciousness of fellowship with the holy Stephen would add vigor to our courage and splendor to our hopes.  We refuse to perpetuate the imposing ritual of the early ages because it is not antique enough:  but whenever we behold two or three gathered together to worship with the heart and voice alone; when we see men assembling on the first day of the week to break bread in remembrance of Christ, in the simplicity of the primitive ordinance; when we see teachers, in all external things like their brethren, gathering wisdom from the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, ­we could almost forget the lapse of ages in sympathy with those from whom they separate us.

Such a sympathy, if originated here, will be perfected hereafter; for it is too purely spiritual to be dissolved by death.  It will then be also extended to all in whom the spirit of the Gospel is a vivifying principle; as it would be here, if we could throw off our prejudices and see each other as we are.  If it is to be, why should it not already be?  With the Gospel before us, with some portion of its light beaming on each of us, some measure of its kindly warmth glowing within us, why should we turn away coldly and silently from communion respecting our best treasure?

If either body believe their brethren in error, is it right to leave them so without an effort to reclaim them?  If both believe the truth destined to prevail, is it not incumbent on them to assist that prevalence?  We believe it is; and therefore we address you; mingling with our entreaties for your co-operation in the development of Divine truth earnest prayers that the Father will abundantly administer to all the resources of that intellectual power and Christian love which constitute a sound mind.