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rather than because they appear to us to be taught in the holy scriptures ; if we be attached to some peculiar principles to the neglect of others, or so as to give them a greater proportion in the system than they require ; if we consider things as being of greater importance than the scriptures represent them; if we obstinately adhere to our opinions, so as to be averse to free inquiry, and not open to conviction ; if we make so much of principles as to be inattentive to holy practice; or if a difference in religious sentiment destroy or damp our benevolence to the persons of those from whom we differ; in any of these cases, we are subject to the charge of bigotry. But we may consider a belief of certain doctrines as necessary to salvation, without coming under any part of the above description. We may be attached to these doctrines, not because we bave already embraced them, but on account of their appearing to us to be revealed in the scriptures : we may give them only that degree of importance in our views of things, which they occupy there: we may be so far friends to free inquiry, as impartially to search the scriptures, to see whether these things be true ; and so open to conviction, as to relinquish our sentiments when they are proved to be unscriptural. We may be equally attached to practical goodness, as to the principles on which it is founded; and, notwithstanding our ill opinion of the religious sentiments of men, and our apprehensions of the danger of their condition, we may yet bear good will to their persons, and wish for nothing more than an opportunity of promoting their welfare, both for this life and that which is to come.
I do not pretend that Calvinists are free from bigotry ; neither are their opponents. What I here contend for, is, That their . considering a belief of certain doctrines as necessary to salvation, unless it can be proved that they make more of these doctrines than the scriptures make of them, ought not to subject them to such a charge. · What is there of bigotry in our not reckoning the Socinians to be Christians, more than in their reckoning us idolators ? Mr. Madan complains of the Socinians “insulting those of his principles with the charge of idolatry." Dr. Priestley justified them by observing, “ All who believe Christ to be a man, and not God,
must necessarily think it idolatrous to pay him divine honours ; and to call it so, is no other than the necessary consequence of avowing our belief.” Nay, he represents it as ridiculous, that they should“ be allowed to think the Trinitarians idolators, without being permitted to call them so."* If Socinians have a right to think Trinitarians idolaters, they have, doubtless, a right to call them so ; and, if they be able to make it appear so : nor ought we to consider ourselves as insulted by it. I have no idea of being offended with any man, in affairs of this kind, for speaking what he believes to be the truth. Instead of courting compliments from each other, in matters of such moment, we ought to encourage an unreservedness of expression provided it be accompanied with sobriety and benevolence. But, neither ought Socinians to complain of our refusing to acknowledge them as Christians, or to impute it to a spirit of bigotry ; for it amounts to nothing more than avowing a necessary consequence of our belief. If we believe the deity and atonement of Christ to be essential to Christianity, we must, necessarily, think those who reject these doctrines, to be no Christians ; nor is it inconsistent with charity to speak accordingly,
Again : what is there of bigotry, in our not allowing the Socin ians to be Christians, more than in their not allowing us to be Uni. tarians? We profess to believe in the divine unity, as much as they do in Christianity. But they consider a oneness of person, as well as of essence, to be essential to the unity of God; and, therefore, cannot acknowledge us as Unitarians : and we consider the deity and atonement of Christ as essential to Christianity ; and, therefore, cannot acknowledge them as Christians. We do not choose to call Socinians Unitarians, because that would be a virtual acknowledgment that we ourselves do not believe in the divine unity: but we are not offended at what they think of us; nor do we impute it to bigotry, or to any thing of the kind. We know, that, while they think as they do on the doctrine of the Trinity, our sentiments must appear to them as Tritheism. We comfort ourselves, in these matters, with this, that the thoughts of creatures, uninspired of God, are liable to mistake. Such are
* Familiar Letters, Lelter VI.
theirs concerning us, and such are ours concerning them; and if Socinians do indeed love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, it is happy for them. The judgment of their fellow-creatures cannot affect their state : and thousands who have scrupled to admit them among the true followers of Christ in this world, would rejoice to find themselves mistaken in that matter at the last day.
It has been pleaded, by some who are not Socinians, that a belief in the doctrine of the atonement is not necessary to salvation : they observe, That the disciples of our Lord, previously to his death, do not appear to have embraced the idea of a vicarious sacrifice ; and therefore conclude that a belief in a vicarious sacrifice is not of the essence of faith. They add, It was owing to prejudice, and, consequently, wrong, for the disciples to disbelieve this doctrine ; and they admit the same thing with respect to Socinians; yet, as the error in the one case did not endanger their salvation, they suppose it may not do so in the other. To this objection the following observations are offered in reply.
First : Those who object in this manner do not suppose the disciples of Christ to have agreed with Socinians in any of their peculiar sentiments, except the rejection of a vicarious sacrifice. They allow them to have believed in the doctrine of human depravity, divine influence, the miraculous conception, the pre-existence and proper deity of Christ, the inspiration of the scriptures, &c. The case of the disciples, therefore, is far from being parallel with that of the Socinians.
Secondly: Whatever were the ignorance and error which occupied the minds of the disciples, relative to the death of their Lord, their case will not apply to that of Socinians, on account of the difference in the state of revelation, as it stood before and after that event. Were it even allowed, that the disciples did reject the doctrine of Christ's being a vicarious sacrifice ; yet the cir. cumstances which they were under render their case very different from ours. We can perceive a very considerable difference between rejecting a principle before, and after a full discussion of it. It would be a far greater evil, in the present day, to persecute men for adhering to the dictates of their consciences, than it was before the rights of conscience were so fully understood. It may Voi. II.
include a thousand degrees more guilt for this country, at the present time, to persist in the slave-trade, than to have done the same thing previously to the late inquiry on that business. But the disparity between periods, with regard to the light thrown upon these subjects, is much less than between the periods before and after the death of Christ, with regard to the light thrown upon that subject. The difference between the periods before and after the death of Christ, was as great as between a period in which a prophecy is unaccomplished, and that in which it is accomplished. There are many things that seem plain in prophecy, when the event is passed, which cannot then be honestly denied : and it may seem wonderful, that they should ever have been overlooked, or mistaken; yet overlooked or mistaken they have been, and that by men of solid understanding and real piety. • It was after the death of Christ, when the means of knowledge began to diffuse light around them, that the disciples were, for the first time, reproved for their slowness of heart to believe, in reference to this subject. It was after the death and resurrection of Christ, when the way of salvation was fully and clearly pointed out, that those who stumbled at the doctrine of the cross were reckoned disobedient, in such a degree as to denominate them unbelievers, and that the most awful warnings and threatenings were pointed against them, as treading under foot the blood of the Son of God. It is true, our Lord had repeatedly predicted his death, and it was faulty in the disciples not to understand and believe it ; yet what he taught on that subject was but little when compared with what followed. The great salvation, as the Apostle to the Hebrews expresses it, first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to the primitive Christians by those who heard him; but then it is added, God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will. Now, it is upon this accumulation of evidence that he asks, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation.*
* Heb. ii. 1-4.
A belief in the resurrection of Christ is allowed, on all hands, to be essential to salvation ; as it is an event upon which the truth • of Christianity rests.* But the disciples of Christ, previously to
the event, were as much in the dark on this article, as on that of the atonement. Even to the last, when he was actually risen from the dead, they visited his tomb, in hope of finding him, and could scarcely believe their senses, with respect to his having left it ; for as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Now, if the resurrection of Christ, though but little understood before the event, may, after it, be considered as essential to Christianity; there is no reason to conclude, but that the same may be said of his atonement.
Thirdly : It is not clear, that the disciples did reject the idea of a vicarious sacrifice. They had, all their lives, been accustomed to vicarious sacrifices : it is, therefore, very improbable, that they should be prejudiced against the idea itself. Their objection to Christ's laying down his life, seems to have been directed simply against his dying, rather than against his dying as a vicarious sacrifice. Could they have been reconciled to the former, for any thing that appears, they would have readily acquiesced in the latter. Their objection to the death of Christ seems to have been more the effect of ignorance and misguided affection, than of a rooted opposition of principle : and therefore when they came to see clearly into the design of his death, it is expressed not as if they had essentially altered their sentiments, but remembered the words which he had spoken to them ; of which, while their minds were beclouded with the notions of a temporal kingdom, they could form no clear or consistent ideas, and, therefore, had forgotten them.t
And, notwithstanding the ignorance and error which attended the disciples, there are things said of them which imply much more than the objection would seem to allow :--Whither I go, said Christ, ye know ; and the way ye know. As if he should say, I am not going to a strange place, but to the house of my Father and of your Father ; with the way to which you are acquainted,
* 1 Cor. xix. 14, 15. Rom. x, 9.
+Luke xxiv. 1-8.