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But, should Dr. Priestley, or any others. of his sentiments, go forth on such an errand, and still retain their principles, they must reverse the declaration of our Lord, and say, We come not to call sinners, but the righteous to repentance All their hope must be in the uncontaminated youth, or the better sort of people, whose habits in the path of vice are not so strong but that they may be overcome. Should they, in the course of their labours, behold a malefactor approaching the hour of his execution, what must they do ? Alas! like the priest and the levite, they must pass by on the other side. They could not so much as admonish him to repentance, with any degree of hope ; because they consider" all late repentance, and especially after long and confirmed habits of vice, as absolutely and necessarily ineffectual.”* Happy for many a poor wretch of that description, happy especially for the poor thief upon the cross, that Jesus Christ acted on a different principle.
These brethren ar e matters that come within the knowledge of every man of observation ; and it behoves you, in such cases, to know not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.
I am, &c.
* See Dr. Priestley's Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 238. Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity, p. 156.
THE SYSTEMS COMPARED AS TO THEIR TENDENCY TO CONVERT
Socinian writers are very sanguine on the tendency of their views of things to convert Infidels; namely, Jews, Heathens, and Mahometans. They reckon that our notions of the Trinity form the grand obstacle to their conversion. Dr. Priestley often suggests, that so long as we maintain the Deity of Jesus Christ, there is no hope of converting the Jews, because this doctrine contradicts the first principle of their religion, the Unity of God. Things, not. altogether, but nearly similar, are said concerning the conversion of the Heathens and Mahometans, especially the latter. On this subject, the following observations are submitted to your consideration.
With respect to the Jews, they know very well, that those who believe in the Deity of Christ, profess to believe in the unity of God; and if they will not admit this to be consistent, they must depart from what is plainly implied in the language of their ancestors. If the Jews in the time of Christ had thought it impossible, or, which is the same thing, inconsistent with the unity of God, that God the Father should have a Son equal to himself, How came they to attach the idea of equality to that of Sonship? Jesus asserted that God was his own Father ; which they understood as making himself. equal with God; and therefore sought to kill him as a blasphemer.* Had the Jews affixed those ideas to sonship which are entertained by our opponents ; namely, as implying nothing more than simple humanity, why did they accuse Jesus of blasphemy for assuming it ? they did not deny, that to be God's own Son was to be equal with the Father; nor did they allege that such an equality would destroy the divine unity: a thought of this kind seems never to have occurred to their minds. The idea to which they objected was, That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God; aud hence, it is probable, the profession of this great article was considered in the apostolic age as the criterion of Christianity.* Were this article admitted by the modern Jews, they must reason differently from their ancestors, if they scrupled to admit that Chrtstis equal with the Father.
* John v. 18.
The Jews were greatly offended at our Lord's words; and his not explaining them so as to remove the stumbling-block out of the way, may serve to teach us how we ought to proceed in removing stumbling blocks out of the way of their posterity. For this cause they sought to kill him--because he had said that God was his Father, MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL WITH GOD. - Jesus said, I and my Father are one. Then they took up stones to stone him. When he told them of many good works that he had shown them, and asked, For which of those works do ye . stone me? They replied, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because thou, BEING A MAN MAKEST THYSELF God.t From hence it is evident, that whether Jesus Christ be truly God, or not, they understood him as asserting that he was 80; that is; they understood his claiming the relation of God's own Son, and declaring that He and his Father were one, as implying so much. This was their stumbling-block. Nor does it appear that Jesus did any thing towards removing it out of their way. It is certain he did not so remove it, as to afford them the least satisfaction : for they continued to think him guilty of the same blasphemy to the last, and, for that, adjudged him worthy of death | If Jesus never thought of being equal with God, it is a pity there should have been such a misunderstanding between them; a misunderstanding that proved the occasion of putting him to death!
Such an hypothesis, to be sure, may answer one end ; it may give us a more favourable idea of the conduct of the Jews than we have been wont to entertain. If it does not entirely justify their procedure, it greatly extenuates it. They erred, it seems, in imagining, that Jesus, by declaring himself the Son of God, made himself equal with God; aud thus, through mistaking his meaning, put him to death as a blasphemer. But, then, it might be pleaded
* Acts viii. 37.
† John v. 18, 10, 30, 33.
#Matthew xxvi. 63, 66.
on their behalf, that Jesus never suggested that they were in an error in this matter ; that, instead of informing them that the name. Son of God implied nothing more than simple humanity, he went on to say, among other things, That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. And, instead of disowning with abhorrence, the idea of making himself God, he seemed to justify it, by arguing from the less to the greater-from the image of the thing to the thing itself.* Now, these things considered, should an impartial jury sit in judgment upon their couduct, one would think they could not, with Stephen, bring it in murder ; to make the most of it, it could be nothing worse than manslaughter. All this may tend to conciliate the Jews ; as it tends to roll away the reproach which, in the esteem of Christians, lies upon their ancestors for crucifying the Lord of glory : but whether it will have any influence towards their conversion, is another question. It is possible, that, in proportion as it confirms their good opinion of their forefathers, it may confirm their ill opinion of Jesus, for having, by his obscure and ambiguous language, given occasion for such a misunderstanding between them. Could the Jews but once be brought to feel that temper of mind, which it is predicted in their own prophets they shall feel ; could they but look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, and be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born ; I should be under no apprehensions respecting their acknowledging his proper divinity, or embracing him as the great atonement, to the fountain of whose blood they would joyfully repair, that they might be cleansed from their siņ and their uncleanness.f
Nearly the same things might be observed respecting Heathens and Mahometans. We may so model the gospel, as almost to accommodate it to their taste: and by this means we may come nearer together ; but whether, in so doing, we shall not be rather converted to them, than they to us, deserves to be considered. Christianity may be so heathenized, that a man may believe in it, and yet he no Christian. Were it true, therefore, that Socinianism had a tendency
* John v. 18. and x. 34, 36.
+ Zech. xii, 10, 14. xiji. 1.