This letter was written by Charles Merrill (1824-1865) — a lawyer from New Berlin, Pennsylvania. After graduating in the Class of 1843 at Lafayette College (Easton, Pennsylvania), he returned to his hometown and was admitted to the bar in December 1845. He eventually became deputy attorney of Snyder County prior to the Civil War. He served as a private in the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers and died at his home in New Berlin from disease contracted during the war in December 1865. He was described as a “lawyer of rare ability and power.”
Merrill wrote the letter to Rev. Austin Craig (1824-1881) who graduated in the class of 1846 at Lafayette College. He was a theologian, teacher, President of Antioch College in Ohio, and near the close of his life served as the President of the Christian Biblical Institute in Stanfordville, New York. Craig was a reformist; his beliefs bordered on transcendentalism.
Addressed to Rev. Austin Craig, Summit P.O., Essex County, New Jersey
New Berlin [Pennsylvania]
May 28th 1850
My Dear Friend,
Your very welcome letter reached me in due season. It would have met an earlier response but our Court coming here prevented. This is our busy season and I hope will prove a sufficient apology. Among the most pleasant reminiscences of Lafayette [College] is the intercourse there began, and the friendship there formed with you. The years that have elapsed since — the total cessation of intercourse — has not by any means blunted the eaze of my recollection. And I further find — at least in your own case — that opinion then formed, prove correct.
I have read your letter, as well as your pamphlets, with great interest. Your views to me were new, and as attractive as they are new. It is certainly a grand scheme to unite in one great brotherhood — in our communion, all who acknowledge the Word without ___ or comment — “confession of faith” or “ritual” as the standard of their belief. I admit the agreements by which you support your theory carry weight and appear exceedingly plausible to say the least. But is the scheme possible? Can a church organized on such principles be sustained? How would the preacher teach to such the word? For instance, suppose the preacher were T_____ in his views. Could he do less in his discourse than proclaim this — to him at least — truth? If he smartly believed this doctrine — as the teaching of the word of truth — could he do less than proclaim it? But perhaps his congregation might not so understand the scripture? How then?
The same may be said concerning many other doctrines — about which sects as at present they exist — differ. And would not the same difficulty occur? Yet how can the Gospel prosper, unless through the agency of preachers? Still there is difficulty on the other side — at least with me. I claim the privilege of forming my own opinion and so far as I know the dogmas of any sect, I cannot subscribe to their requisitions. There is certainly more or less of truth in each. But I do not feel myself prepared to say that any one has all truth, or that any, if it has not all truth, has as far as it goes, nothing but truth.
Now this is my difficulty. I cannot subscribe to any creed or adopted by any of the denominations I know, as I do not believe the whole of any. And yet if I wish to be conscientious in the matter and wish to attach myself to a church, how can I do it? I acknowledge the Bible as the inspired work, but because I cannot understand it in every particular as others do, I am to be debarred from church membership yet ___ present organization. I can see no escape from this unless the doctrine you support can be sustained.
Now my case is by no means singular. I very much doubt whether any two men can in all things believe exactly alike — though their belief be founded upon the same Testimony. But it is suggested why preach upon topics that involve difficulties or present the foundation of sectarian division? Let the preacher preach “Christ & him crucified” — he has done his duty. But how teach him as “coequal with” in subordinate to the Father. So of baptism — whether by sprinkling or emersion — so with other points — upon all of which opinions are at variance.
This my friend — in its difficulty meets me at every time, whether I stand still or go on. I confess I have not given the subject the consideration I should have. I am in the dark. I see no way of extricating myself. Every proposition is but “the horn of a dilemma.” I know not whether I have succeeded in making myself understood. I hope so, and I further hope you will pardon this somewhat long essay concerning as it does only myself.
I was glad to learn that you have chosen a place and are so favorable for the exercise of the influence I am confident if your life be spared, you are destined to exert. The sermon you sent me has not been idle. It has gone somewhat round in our community and is now on its travels. You wished me to name to you some person here who would likely read and circulate other essays upon the same subject. I would name Henry A. Lichtenthaler — Charles D. Roush — John Swineford — Henry D. Rodearmel — Christian Marson — John M. Baum — these I think would cheerfully receive and make good on such things as you would send. To the number I hope you will add the ____ _____.
You refer to a communication with A. Sterritt. I am rejoiced to learn that he is prospering. I have heard but little of him since I left Lafayette [College]. Indeed, but few of our old associates do I hear from. Charles Wilson is M.D., married, a family, and doing very well. [He] lives about 10 miles from this. G. W. [George Washington] Baskin lives in Mercer County, this state, also married — very steady and doing well — so I am informed. Mather A. Stanley I learn has turned out but badly — taken to drinking hard and wasted a fine estate. I am sorry for him. He was a man of some fine traits though many bad ones. But I am out of the way of learning of old friends. Can you tell what has become of Mr. Rush?
But I must close. I hope soon to hear from you again. And I will look with great interest for anything you may publish.
Truly your friend, — Charles Merrill