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practice of religion that Mr. Belsham was qualified to see and pronounce Calvinism to be gloomy and erroneous, an unamiable and melancholy system? Charity forbids us to think he was thus qualified; and if so, by his own rule he is no very competent judge ; except he is pleased to adopt the alternative, that he is only the humble follower of more sagacious, but irreligious guides.”*.
We read of different kinds of preparatives in the scriptures ; but I do not recollect that they contain any thing like the above. Zeal and attention, a disposition to search and pray, according to Solomon, is a preparative for the discovery of truth. The piety of Cornelius, which he exercised according to the opportunities he possessed of obtaining light, was a preparative for his reception of the gospel as soon as he heard it. And this accords with our Lord's declaration, He that will do his will shall know of his doctrine. On the other hand, the cold indifference of some in the apostolic age, who received not the love of the truth, but, as it should seem, held it with a loose hand, even while they professed it, was equally a preparative for apostacy. We also read of some, in Isaiah's time, “who leaned very much to a life of dissipation:" they erred through wine. All tables are full of vomit and. filthiness, (saith the prophet, describing one of their assemblies,) so that there is no place. He adds, Whom shall he teach knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand doctrine ? And what is the answer ? Were the men who “ leaned to a life of dissipation,” who loved to suck at the breasts of sensual indulgence, the proper subjects.? No those that were weaned from the breasts, and drawn from the milk. Il
it seems, the case is altered, and, in order to find out the truth, the most likely way is, to be divested of all religion ! .
It is true, these things are spoken of what are called “speculative Unitarians," whom Dr. Priestley calls “men of the world, and distinguishes them from “serious Christians." He endeavours also to guard his cause by observing, that the bulk of profes
* Discourse on the Influence of Religious. Practice upon our Inquiries after Truth, in Auswer to Mr. Belsham's Sermon, p. 6.
† Prov. ii, 1–9. Acts x. 62 Thes, ii. 10. || Isa. xxviii. 7, 9, 13.
sing Christians, or of those who should have ranked as Christians, in every age, have been of this description. It must be acknowledged, that there have been lukewarm, dissipated, and merely nominal Christians, in all ages of the church, and in every denomination: I suspect, however, that Dr. Priestley, in order to reduce the state of the church in general to that of the Unitarians, has rather magnified this matter. But, be that as it may, there are two circumstances which render it improper for him to reason from this case to the other :-First; whatever bad characters have ranked with other denominations, (at least with ours,) as to their religious creed, we do not own, or consider them as “converts ;" much less do we glory in the spread of our principles, when men of that character profess to embrace them, as this writer does.* If we speak of converts to our principles, we disown such people, and leave them out of the account, as persons whose walk and conversation, whatever be their speculative opinions, discover them to be enemies to the cross of Christ. But, were the Socinians to do so, it is more than probable that the number of converts of whom they boast would be greatly diminished. Secondly ; whenever irreligious characters profess to imbibe our principles, we do not consider their state of mind as friendly to them. That which we ccount truth, is a system of holiness; a system, therefore, which men of “no religion” will never cordially embrace. Persons may, indeed, embrace a notion about the certainty of the divine decrees, and of the necessity of things being as they are to be, whether the proper means be used, or not; and they may live in the neglect of all means, and of all practical religion, and may reckon themselves, and be reckoned by some others, among the Calvinists. To such a creed as this, it is allowed, the want of all religion is the best preparative: but then it must be observed, that the creed itself is as false as the practice attending it is impure, and as opposite to Calvinism as it is to scripture and common sense. Our opponents, on the contrary, ascribe
of their conversions to the absence of religion, as their proper cause, granting that “ many of those who judge so truly concerning par.
* Discourses on Various Subjects, pp. 91-93, 94. Vol. II.
ticular tenets in religion, have attained to that cool, unbiassed temper of mind, in consequence of becoming more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it." Could this acknowledgment be considered as the mistake of an unguarded moment, it might be overlooked : but it is a fact ; a fact which, as Dr. Priestley himself expresses it, “cannot be denied;"'* a fact therefore, which must needs prove a millstone about the neck of his system. That doctrine, be it what it may, to which an indifference to religion in general is friendly, cannot be the gospel, or any thing pertaining to it, but something very near akin to Infidelity.
If it be objected, that the immoral character of persons, previously to their embracing a set of principles, ought not to be alleg. ed against the moral tendency of those principles, because, if it were, Christianity itself would be dishonoured by the previous character of many of the primitive Christians ;-it is replied, there are two circumstances necessary to render this objection of any force : First, the previous character of the convert, however wicked it may have been, must have no influence on his conversion, Secondly; this conversion must have such an influence on him, that, whatever may have been his past character, his future life shall be devoted to God. Both these circumstances existed in the case of the primitive Christians ; and if the same could be said of the converts to Socinianism, it is acknowledged, that all objections from this quarter ought to give way. But this is not the case. Socinian converts are not only allowed, many of them, to be men of no religion; but the want of religion, as we have seen already, is allowed to have influenced their conversion. Nor is this all : it is allowed, that their conversion to these principles has no such influence upon them as to make any material change in their character for the better. This is a fact tacitly admitted by Mr. Belsham, in that he goes about to account for it, by alleging what was their character previously to their conversion. It is true, he talks of this being the case “only for a time," and, at length, these converts are to “ have their eyes opened ; are to feel the benign influence of their principles, and demonstrate the excellency of their faith by the superior dignity and worth of their character.” But these, it seems, like “ the annihilation of death" and the conversion of Jews and Mahometans by the Socinian doctrine, are things yet to comer*
* Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 95.
* Since the publication of the first edition of these Letters, a report has been circulated, that Dr. Priestley has been misrepresented by the quotation in page 55, which also was referred to at the commencement of the Preface. Dr. P. it has been said, in the place from whence the passage is taken, was not com. mending a total indifference to religion, bui the contrary; and his meaning was not that such a disregard to all religion is a better qualification for discerning truth than a serious temper of mind, but that it is preferable to that bigoted altachment to a systems, which some people discover.
That Dr. P.'s leading design was to commend a total indifference to religion, was never suggested. I suppose this, on the contrary, was to commend good discipline among the Unitarians, for the purpose of promoting religious zeal His words are, (accounting for the want of zeal among them,) “It cannot be denied, that many of those who judge so truly concerning particular tenets in religion, have attained to that cool, unbiassed temper of mind, in consequence of becoming more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it. Though, therefore, they are in a more favourable situation for distinguishing between truth and falsehood, they are not likely to acquire a seal for what they conceive to be the truth.”
The leading design of Dr. P. in this passage, it is allowed, was to recommend good discipline, as friendly to zeal; and as a previous indifference to religion in general was unfavourable" to that temper of mind which he wished to inspire, in this view he is to be understood as blaming it. Yet, in an incidental manner he as plainly acknowledges it to have been favourable for distinguishing between truth and falsehood; and, in this view, he must be understood as commending it. That he does commend it, though in an incidental way, is manifest from his attributing their judging so truly concerning particular tenets in religion to it; and that, not merely as an occasion, but as an adequate cause, producing a good effect: rendering the mind more cool and unbiassed than it was before. To suppose that Dr. P. does not mean to recommend indifference to religion in general, as friendly to truth, (though unfriendly toseal,) is supposing him not to mean what he says.
As to the question, Whether Dr. P. means to compare an indifference to religion in general with a serious temper of mind, or with a spirit of bigotry? It cannot be the latter, unless he considers the characters of whom he speaks, as having been formerly bigoted in their attachment to modes and forms: for he is not comparing them with other people, but with them selves at a former period So long as they regarded religion in general, according to his account, they
But it will be pleaded, Though many who go over to Socin. ianism are men of no religion, and, continue to “ lean to a life of
were in a less favourable situation for distinguishing between truth and falsehood, than when they came to disregard it. Dr. P.'s own account of these characters seems to agree with more men of the world, rather than with religious bigots. They were persons, he says, who troubled themselves very little about religion, but who had been led to turn their attention to the dispute concerning the person of Christ, and, by their natural good sense had decided upon it. To this effect he writes in pages 96, 97, of his Discourses on Va. rious Subjects. Now, this is far from answering to the character of religious bigots, or of those who at any time have sustained that character.
But, waving this, let us suppose, that the regard which those characters bore towards religion in general, was the regard of bigots. In this case, they were a kind of Pharisees, attached to modes and forms which blinded their minds from discovering the truth. Afterwards, they approached nearer to the Sadducees, became more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it. The amount of Dr. P.'s position would then be, That the spirit of a Sadducee is preferable, with respect to discerning truth, to that of a Pharisee, possessing more of a cool, unbiassed temper of mind. The reply that I should make to this is, That neither Pharisees nor Sadducees possess that temper of mind of which Dr. P. speaks, but are both a generation of vipers, different in some respects, but equally malignant towards the true gospel of Christ; and that the humble, the candid, the serious, and the upright inquirers after truth are the only persons likely to find it. And this is the substance of what I advanced in the first page of the Preface, which has been charged as a misrepresentation. I never suggested that Dr. P. was comparing the characters in question with the serious or the candid ; but rather, that et the comparison respect whom it might, his attributing an unbiassed temper of mind to men, in consequence of their becoming indifferent to religion in general, was erroneous; for that he who is not a friend to religion in any mode, is an enemy to it in all modes, and ought not to be complimented as being in a favourable situation for distinguishing between truth and falsehood.
A writer in the Monthly Review has laboured to bring Mr. Belsham off in the same manner; but, instead of affording him any relief, he has betrayed the cause he has espoused, and made Mr. B. reason in a manner unworthy of his abilities. “We apprehend," says this writer, “that Mr. B. does not mean to assert, nor even to intimate, that indifference to religious practice prepared the mind for the admission of that religious truth which prompts virtuous conduct.” Mr. B. however, does intimate, 'and even assert, “ that the men who are the most indifferent to the practice of religion, will ever be he first not only to see the absurdity of a popular superstition, but to embrace a