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to be so, from its being counterfeited; for it is not usual to counterfeit things of no value. Those persons who entertain low and diminutive ideas of the evil of sin and the dignity of Christ, must, in order to be thought religious by us, counterfeit the contrary ;) but, among Socinians, the same persons may avow those ideas, and be caressed for it. That temper of mind which we suppose common to men, as being that which they possess by nature, needs not to be disguised among them, in order to be well thought of: they have, therefore, no great temptations to hypocrisy. The question in hand, however, is not-What influence either our principles or theirs have upon persons who do not in reality adopt them? but, What influence they bave upon those who do ?*
Thirdly, It is not the good conduct of a few individuals, either side, that will prove any thing. Some bave adopted a false creed, and retain it in words, who yet never enter into the spirit of it, and consequently do not act upon it. But merely dormant opinions can hardly be called principles: those, rather, seem to be a man's principles, which lie at the foundation of his spirit and conduct. Farther: good men are found in denominations whose principles are very bad ; and good men, by whatever names they are called, are more nearly of a sentiment than they are frequently aware of. Take two of them, who differ the most in words, and bring them upon their knees in prayer, and they will be nearly agreed. Besides, A great deal of that which passes for virtue amongst men, is not so in the sight of God, who sees things as they
It is no more than may be accounted for without bringing religion or virtue into the question. There are motives and considerations which will commonly influence men, living in society to behave with decorum. Various occupations and pursuits, especially those of a mental and religious kind, are inconsistent with profligacy of manners. False apostles, the very ministers of Satan, are said to transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, and to appear as the ministers of righteousness ; even as Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.* There are certain vices, which, being inconsistent with others, may be the means of restraining them.
*Though the Socinians be allowed, in what is said above, to bave but few hypocrites among them; yet this is to be understood as relating merely to one species of hypocrisy. Dr. Priestly speaking of Unitarians who still continue in the Church of England, says, “ from a just aversion to every thing that looks like hypocrisy and preciseness, they rather lean to the extreme of fashionable dissipation.” Yet he represents the same persons, and that in the same page, as “ continuing to countenance à mode of worship, which, if they were questioned about it, they could not deny to be according to their own principles, idolatrous and blasphemous, Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 96. The hypocrisy, theu, to which these gentlemen have 80 just an adversion, seems to be only of one kind.
Covetousness may be the cause of sobriety; and pride restrains thousands from base and ignoble gratifications, in which, nevertheless, their hearts take secret and supreme delight. A decent conduct has been found in Pharisees, in infidels, nay, even in Atheists. Dr. Priestly acknowledges that “An Atheist may be temperate, good natured, honest, and, in the less-extended sense of the word, a virtuous man."| Yet Dr. Priestly would not from bence infer any thing in favour of the moral tendency of Atheism.
Lastly, Neither zeal in defence of principles, nor every kind of devotion springing from them, will prove those principles to be true, or worthy of God. Several gentlemen, who bave gone over from the Calvinistic to the Socinian system, are said to possess greater zeal for the propagation of the latter, than thay had used to discover for that of the former. As this, however, makes nothing to the disadvantage of their system, neither does it make any thing to its advantage. This may be owing, for any thing that can be proved to the contrary, to their having found a system more consonant to the bias of their hearts than that was which they formerly professed. And as to devotion, a species of this may exist in persons, and that to a higher degree, inconsistent enough with the worst of principles. We know that the gospel had no worse enemies than the devout and honourable amongst the Jews. Saul while an enemy to Jesus Christ, was as sincere, as zealous, and as devout in his way, as any of those persons whose sincerity, zeal, and devotion, are frequently held up by their admirers in favour of their cause.
*2 Cor. xi. 13, 15. + Letters to a philosophical Unbeliever Part I. p. 6, Preface.
facts. xiii. 50.
These observations may be thought by some, instead of clearing the subject, to involve it in greater difficulties, and to render it almost impossible to judge of the tendency of principles by any thing that is seen in the lives of men. The subject it is allowed, has its difficulties, and the foregoing observations are a proof of it: but I hope to make it appear, whatever difficulties may, on these accounts, attend the subject, that there is still enough, in the general spirit and conduct of men, by which to judge of the tendendency of their principles.
THE SYSTEMS COMPARED, AS TO THEIR TENDENCY TO CONVERT
PROFLIGATES TO A LIFE OF HOLINESS.
You need not be told, that being born again—created in Christ Jesus—converted—becoming as a little child, &c. are phrases expressive of a change of heart, which the scriptures make necessary to a life of holiness here, and to eternal life hereafter. It is on this account that I begin with conversion, considering it as the commencement of a holy life.
A change of this sort was as really necessary for Nicodemus, whose outward character, for ought appears, was respectable, as for Zaccheus, whose life had been devoted to the sordid pursuits of avarice. Few, I suppose, will deny this to be the doctrine taught in the New Testament. But, should this be questioned, should the necessity of a change of heart in some characters be denied, still it will be allowed necessary in others. Now, as a change is more conspicuous, and consequently more convincing, in such persons who have walked in an abandoned course, than in those of a more sober life, I have fixed upon the conversion of profligates, as a suitable topic for the present discussion.
There are two methods of reasoning which may be used in ascertaining the moral tendency of principles. The first is, by comparing the nature of the principles themselves with the nature of true holiness, and the agreement or disagreement of the one with the other. The second is, by referring to plain and acknowledged facts, judging of the nature of causes by their effects. Both these methods of reasoning, which are usually expressed by the terms a priori, and a posteriori, will be used in this and the following Letters, as the nature of the subject may admit.