It surely was an odd sight to see that preacher mount the stand, carrying an open copy of The Democrat, lay it down beside the Bible, and read verse about from the two documents. The sermon was as odd as the text. It disposed of me by the summary mode of denunciation, but also disposed of David, Solomon and Miriam at the same time. When I gave the discourse a careful Scriptural criticism, I carried the community, and was strengthened by the controversy. But another, more serious and general dispute was at hand.
When Theodore Parker died, the orthodox press from Maine to Georgia, handed him over to Satan to be tormented; and then my reputation for heresy reached its flood-tide.
Rev. John Renwick, one of our Covenanter martyrs, was my ideal of a Christian, and when he lay in the Edinburg prison under sentence of death, his weeping friends begged him to conform and save his life. They said to him:
“Dinna ye think that we, who ha’ conformit may be saved?”
“Aye, aye. God forbid that I should limit his grace.”
“An’ dinna ye think, ye too could be saved and conform?”
“Oh, aye aye. The blood of Christ cleanseth fra all sin.”
“Weel, what mair do ye want, than the salvation o’ yer saul?”
“Mair, mickle mair! I want to honor my Master, and bear witness to the truth.”
To satisfy this want, he died a felon’s death. The central idea of that old hero-making Westminster theology was, that man’s chief end is to glorify God first, and enjoy him forever when that is done. In all the religious training of my youth, I had never heard the term “seek salvation.” We were to seek the privilege of serving God; yet I was willing to be dead-headed into heaven, with the rest of the Presbyterians.
A Protestant Episcopal convention had pointedly refused to advise members of that church to respect the marriage relation among their slaves, and so had dimmed the Elizabethian glory of a church which once stood for freedom so nobly that the winds and waves became her allies, and crowned her with victory. The General Assembly had laid the honor of its martyrs in the dust by endorsing human slavery; and I must be false to every conviction if I did not protest against calling that Christianity which held out crowns of glory to man-thieves and their abettors, and everlasting torments to those who had spent their lives glorifying God and bearing witness to the truth. My defense of Parker and unwillingness to have all Unitarians sent to the other side of the Great Gulf, won for me a prominent place among those whom the churches pronounced “Infidels.”
But there came a time when “Providence” seemed to be on the side of the slave.