Thursday, December 1, 2011

William Livingston's Ecumenical Letter

Livingston's letter, Sept. 22, 1744, to Rev. Mr. James Sprout, anticipates Thomas Jefferson's 1819 "Apriarians" remark AND Benjamin Rush's 1808 remark on how his faith is "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

Finally, the letter anticipates the notion found in all of the "key Founders'" theological meanderings (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin) that the test of "true religion" is good works (not necessarily faith in doctrine).

"My dear Sir,

# # # # #'# # #

"I am sorry to hear you are so divided among yourselves with respect to religion, which is plain and simple, and to the meanest capacity intelligible. Every man has a right to think for himself, as he shall answer for himself, and it is unreasonable for me to be angry with any one for being of different principles, as he has the same pretence to quarrel with me. And when we consider that truth is comprised in a small compass, but that error is infinite, we shall not be so positive and dogmatical, to set up for infallibility, and anathematize those of a contrary opinion. There is no sect that come under the denomination of Christians but what pretend to ground their principles on the Holy Scriptures, and consequently all have an equal right to think themselves the best; and if they are heretical in some tenets, in others they are confessedly orthodox. Let us then resemble the bee, that collects the purest nectar out of a diversity of flowers, that we may not quake, but exult, at the second sound of the trumpet, when we shall not be asked of what sect we have been, but be judged according to our works.

I am, &c.

"Wm. Livingston."

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