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But still, it may be said, We know not what is to come. True: but this we know, that if any considerable fruit arise from the Addresses above referred to, it is yet to come ; and not from these Addresses only, but I am inclined to think, from any thing that has been attempted by Socinians for the conversion of unbelievers.
Is it not a fact, that Socinian principles render men indifferent to this great object, and even induce them to treat it with contempt? The Monthly Reviewers, in reviewing Mr. Carey's late publication on this subject, infer from his acknowledgements of the baneful influence of wicked Europeans in their intercourse with Heathens, and the great corruptions among the various denominations of professing Christians, that, if so, “far better is the light of nature, as communicated by their Creator, than any light that our officiousness disposes us to carry to them."* By Europeans who have communicated their vices to Heathens ; Mr. Carey undoubtedly meant, not those ministers of the gospel, or those serious Christians, who have gone among them for their good; but navigators merchants and adventurers, whose sole object was to enrich themselves: and, though he acknowledges a great deal of degeneracy and corruption, to have infected the Christian world, yet the qualifications which he requires in a missionary might have secured bis proposal from censure, and doubtless would have done so, bad not the Reviewers been disposed to throw cold water upon every such undertaking. If, indeed, there be none to be found among professing Christians, except such who, by their intercourse with Heathens, would only render their state worse than it was befyre, let the design be given up: but if otherwise, the objection is of no force.
The Reviewers will acknowledge, that great corruptions have attended the civil government of Europe, not excepting that of our own country; and that we are constantly engaged in dissensions on the subject: yet I have no doubt but they could find certain individuals who, if they were placed in the midst of an uncivilized people, would be capable of affording them substantial assistancewould teach them to establish good laws, good order, and equal liberty. Nor would they think of concluding, because European conquerors and courtiers, knowing no higher motive than self-interest, instead of meliorating the condition of uncivilized nations, have injured it, that therefore it was vain for any European to think of doing otherwise. Neither would they regard the sneers of the enemies of civil liberty and equity, who might deride them as a little flock of conceited politicians, or, at best, of inexperienced philanthropists, whose plans might amuse in the closet, but would not bear in real life. Why is it that we are to be sceptical and inactive in nothing but religion ?
* Monthly Review, for Dec. 1792, p. 447.
Had Mr. Carey, after the example of Dr. Priestley, proposed that his own denomination only should open an intercourse with Heathens, the Reviewers would have accused him of illibebarality; and now, when he proposes that “other denominations should engage separately in promoting missions," this, it is said, would be “spreading our religious dissensions over the globe.” How, then, are these gentlemen to be pleased ? By sitting still, it should seem, and persuading ourselves that it is impossible to find out what is true religion; or, if not, that it is but of little importance to disseminate it. But why is it, I again ask, that we are to be sceptical and inactive in nothing but religion? The result is this: Socinianism, so far from being friendly to the conversion of unbelievers, is neither adapted to the end, nor favourable to the means -to those means, however, by which it has pleased God to save them that believe.
THE ARGUMENT, FROM THE NUMBER OF CONVERTS TO SOCINIANISM,
IF facts be admitted as evidence, perhaps it will appear that Socinianism is not so much adapted to make converts of Jews, Heathens, Mahometans, or Philosophical Unbelievers, as of a speculating sort of people among professing Christians. These in our own country are found, some in the Established Church, and some among the Dissenters. Among people of this description, I suppose, Socinianism has gained considerable ground. Of this, Dr. Priestley, and others of his party are frequently making their boast. *
But whether they have any cause for boasting, even in this case may be justly doubted.
In the first place let it be considered, that, though Socinianism may gain ground among speculating individuals, yet the congregations where that system, or what bears a near resemblance to it, is taught, are greatly upon the decline. There are, at this time, a great many places of worship in this kingdom, especially among the Presbyterians and the General Baptists, where the Socinian and Arian doctrines have been taught till the congregations are gradually dwindled away, and there are scarcely enough left to keep up the form of worship. There is nothing in either of these systems, comparatively speaking, that alarms the conscience, or interests the heart.; and therefore the congregations where they are taught, unless kept up by the accidental popularity of a preacher or some other circumstance distinct from the doctrine delivered, generally fall into decay.
* Discourses on Various Subjects, pp. 93, 94,
But, farther let us examine a little more particularly, what sort of people, they, in general, are, who are converted to Socinianism. It is an object worthy of inquiry, whether they appear to be modest, humble, serious Christians, such as have known the plague of their own hearts ; such in whom tribulation hath wrought patience, and patience experience; such who know whom they bave believed and who have learned to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord ; such who, in their investigation of sentiments, bave been used to mingle earnest and humble prayer with patient and impartial inquiry ; such, in fine, who have become as little children in their own eyes? If, they be, it is a circumstance of consequence, not sufficient, indeed to justify their change of sentiments, but to render that change an object of attention. When persons of this description embrace a set of new principles, it becomes a matter of serious consideration, what could induce them to do so. But if they be not, their case deserves but little regard. When the body of converts to a system are mere speculatists in religion, men of little or no seriousness, and who pay no manner of attention to vital and practical religion, it reflects neither honour on the cause they bave espoused, nor dishonour on that which they have rejected. When we see persons of this stamp go over to the Socinian standard, it does not at all surprise us : on the contrary, we are ready to say, as the Apostle said of the defection of some of the professors of Christianity in his day, They went out from us, but they were not of us. That many
of the Socinian converts were previously men of no serious religion, needs no other proof than the acknowledgment of Dr. Priestley, and of Mr. Belsham. “ It cannot be denied," says the former, " that many of those who judge so truly concerning particnlar tenets in religion, have attained to that cool and unbiassed temper of mind in consequence of becoming more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it.” And this indifference to all religion is considered by Dr. Priestley as "favoura. ble to a distinguisbing between truth and falsehood."* Much to the same purpose is what Mr. Belsham alleges, as quoted before, that “ Men who are most indifferent to the practice of religion, and whose
* Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 65.
minds, therefore are least attached to any set of principles, will ever be the first to see the absurdity of a popular superstition, and to em. brace a rational system of faith."* It is easy to see, one should think from hence, what sort of characters those
which pose the body of Socinian converts.
Dr. Priestley, however, considers this circumstance as reflecting no dishonour upon his principles. He thinks he has fully accounted for it. So thinks Mr. Belsham; and so think the Monthley Reviewers, in their Review of Mr. Belsham's Sermon.t
Surely Socinians must be wretchedly driven, or they would not have recourse to such a refuge as that of acknowledging that they hold a gospel, the best preparative for which is a being destitute of all religion !“ What a reflection is here implied,” says Dr. Wil
on the most eminent reformers of every age, who were the first to see the absurdities of a popular superstition, and the falsity of reigning principles! What a poor compliment to the religious character of Unitarian reformers ! According to this account, one might be tempted to ask, Was it by being indifferent to the
* Sermon on the Importance of Truth, p. 32.
+ I have not scrupled to class the Monthly Reviewers
Socinians. Although in a work of that kind there be frequently, no doubt, a change of hands ; yet it is easy to see, that, of late years, (a very short interval exceped,) it has been principally, if not entirely, under Socinian direction; and, so far as relgion is concerned, has been used as an instrument for the propagation of that system. Impartiality towards Calvinistic writers is not, therefore, to be expected from that quarter. It is true, they sometimes affect to stand aloof from all parties : but it is mere affectalion. Nothing can be more absurd than to expect them to judge impartially in a cause wherein they themselves are parties : absurl, however as it is, some persons are weak enough to be imposed upon by their pretences. Perhaps, of late years, the Monthly Review has more contributed to the spreading of Socinianism, than all other writings put together. The plan of that work does not admit of argumentation; a sudden flash of wit is generally reckoned sufficient to discredit a Calvinistic performance; and this just suits the turn of those who are destitute of all religion. A laborious investigation of matters would not suit their temper of mind: they had rather subscribe to the well-known maxim, that « Ridicule is the test of truth :" and then, whenever the Reviewers hold up a doctrine as ridiculous, they have nothing to do, but to join the laugh, and conclude it to be a “pulgar error, or a popular superstition.”