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and therefore will soon be with me. Thomas said unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? Jesús said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.--If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also : and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.* From this passage it appears, that the disciples had a general idea of salvation through Christ ; though they did not understand particularly, how it was to be accomplished. Farther : Christ taught his hearers, saying, Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in you :-and the bread that I will give is my flesh, that I will give for the life of the world. On this occasion, many of his nominal disciples were of. fended, and walked no more with him ; but the true disciples were not offended. On the contrary, being asked, Will ye also go away? Peter answered, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.t From this passage it plainly appears, that the true disciples of Christ were, even at that time, considered as believing so much on the subject of Christ's giving himself for the life of the world, as to eat his flesh and drink his blood; for our Lord certainly did not mean to condemn them, as having no life in thein. So far were they from rejecting this doctrine, that the same words at which the false disciples were offended, were to them the words of eternal life. Probably, this great truth was sometimes more, and sometimes less apparent to their view. At those periods in which their minds were occupied with the notion of a temporal kingdom, or in which events turned up contrary to their expectations, they would be all in darkness concerning it ; yet, with all their darkness, and with all their doubts, it does not appear to be a doctrine which they can be said to have rejected.
No person, I think, who is open to conviction can be a bigot, whatever be his religious sentiments. Our opponents, it is true, are very ready to suppose, that this is our general character, and that we are averse from free inquiry : but this may be more than they are able to prove. We acknowledge, that we do not choose to circulate books indiscriminately among our friends, which are considered by us as containing false and pernicious doctrines ; neither do other people. I never knew a zealous Dissenter eager to circulate a book containing high-church principles, among his children and connexions ; nor a Churchman, those which contain the true principles of dissent. In like manner, an Anti-trinitarian will not propagate the best productions of Trinitarians. If they happen to meet with a weak performance, in which the subject is treated to disadvantage, they may feel no great objection to make it public; but it is otherwise with respect to those in which it is treated to advantage. I have known some gentlemen affecting to possess what has been called a liberal mind, who have discovered no kind of concern at the indiscriminate circulation of Socinian productions ; but I have also perceived, that those gentlemen have not been far from their kingdom of heaven. If any person choose to read the writings of a Socinian or of an Atheist, he is at liberty to do so ; but, as the Monthly Reviewers themselves observe,“ Though we are always ready to engage in inquiries after truth, and wish to see them at all times promoted; yet we choose to avoid disseminating notions which we cannot approve."*
* John xiv. 4–7.
† John vi. 51--68.
As to being open to conviction ourselves, it has been frequently observed, that Socinians discover as great an aversion to the reading of our writings, as we can discover to the reading of theirs. Some will read them ; but not many. Out of a hundred persons, whose minds lean towards the Socinian system, should you put into their hands a well-written Calvinistic performance, and desire them carefully and seriously to read it over, I question whether five would comply with your request. So far, however, as my observation extends, I can perceive in such persons an eagerness for reading those writings which suit their taste, and a contempt of others, equal, if not superior, to what is perceivable in people of other denominations.
Dr. Priestley suggests, that the importance which we give to our sentiments, tends to prevent an earnest and impartial search after truth. “While they imbibe such a notion of their present
* Monthly Review Enlarged, Vol. VI. p. 555.
sentiments, they must needs” he says, “live in the dread of all free inquiry ; whereas we, who have not that idea of the importance of our present sentiments, preserve a state of mind proper for the discussion of them. If we be wrong, as our minds are under no strong bias, we are within the reach of conviction ; and thus are in the way to grow wiser and better as long as we live."'*
Mr. Belsham, however, appears to think the very reverse. He pleads, and I think very justly, that an idea of the non-importance of sentiment, tends to destroy a spirit of inquiry, by becalming the mind into a state of indifference and carelessness. He complains of those of his own party, (the Sociniaus,) who maintain that “ sincerity is every thing, that nothing is of much value but an honest heart, and that speculative opinions, the cant name for those interesting doctrines, which the wise and good in every age have thought worthy of the most serious discussion,—that these speculative opinions, as they are opprobriously called, are of little use. What is this,” adds he, “but to pass a severe censure upon those illustrious names, whose acute and learned labours have been successfully employed in clearing up the difficulties in which these important subjects were involved ; to condemn their own conduct, in wasting so much of their time and pains upon such useless speculations ; and to check the progress of religious inquiry and Christian knowledge ? Were I a friend to the popular maximthat speculative opinions are of no importance, I would endeavour to act consistently with my principles : I would content myself with believing as my fathers believed ; I would take no pains to acquire or diffuse knowledge ; I would laugh at every attempt to instruct and to meliorate the world ; I would treat as a visionary and a fool, every one who should aim to extend the limits of science ; I would recommend to my fellow-creatures that they should neither lie nor defraud, that they should neither swear falsely nor steal, should say their prayers as they have been taught : but, as to any thing else, that they need not give themselves any concern; for that honesty was every thing, and that every expectation of
*Considerations on Difference of Opinion, $ II.
improving their circumstances, by cultivating their understandings and extending their views, would prove delusive and chimerical."*
None will imagine that I have quoted Mr. Belsham on account of my agreement with him in the great principles of the gospel. What he would reckon important truth, I should consider as pernicious error : and, probably, his views of the importance of what he accounts truth, are not equal to what I have attempted to maintain. But, in this general principle we are agreed : That our conceiving of truth as being of but little importance, has a tendency to check free inquiry rather than to promote it : which is the reverse of what we are taught by Dr. Priestley.
To illustrate the subject more fully : Suppose the possession of a precious stone, of a certain description, to entitle us to the possession of some very desirable object ; and suppose that none of any other description would answer the same end; would that consideration tend to prejudice our minds in favour of any stone we might happen to possess; or prevent an impartial and strict inquiry into its properties? Would it not rather induce us to be more inquisitive and careful, lest we should be mistaken, and so lose the prize ? If on the other hand, we could imagine, that any stone would answer the same end,or that an error in that matter were of trifling importance as to the issue, would it not have a tendency to promote a spirit of carelessness in our examinations ; and, as all men are apt, in such cases, to be prejudiced in favour of what they already have, to make us rest contented with what we had in pos. session, be it what it might ?
It is allowed, however, that, as every good has its counterfeit, and as there is a mixture of human prejudices and passions in all we think or do, there is danger of this principle degenerating into an unchristian severity ; and of its being exercised at the expense of that benevolence which is due to all men. There is nothing, however, in this view of things, which, in its own nature, tends to promote these evils : for the most unfavourable opinion of a man's principles and state may consist with the most perfect benevolence
* Sermon on the Importance of truth, pp. 5, 6.
and compassion towards his person. Jesus Christ thought as ill of the principles and state of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the generality of the Jewish nation, as any of us think of one another ; yet he wept over Jerusalem, and to his last hour sought her welfare. The apostle Paul had the same conception of the principles and state of the generality of his countrymen, as Christ himself had, and much the same as we have of the Socinians. He considered them, though they followed after the law of righteousness, or were very devout in their way, yet as not having attained to the law of righteousness ; in other words, as not being righteous persons ; which the Gentiles, who submitted to the gospel, were. And wherefore ? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law ? For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.* Yet Paul, in the same chapter, and in the most solemn manner, declared, that he had great heaviness, and continual sorrow in his heart.-Nay, that he could wish himself accursed from Christ, for his brethren's sake, his kinsmen according to the flesh !
But why need I say any more ? Dr. Priestley himself allows all I plead for : “ The man,', says he, “whose sole spring of action is a concern for lost souls, and a care to preserve the purity of that gospel which alone teaches the most effectual method of their recovery from the power of sin and Satan unto God, will feel an ardour of mind that will prompt him strenuously to oppose all those whom he considers as obstructing his benevolent designs.” He adds, “ I could overlook every thing in a man who I thought meant nothing but my everlasting welfare."| This, and nothing else, is the temper of mind which I have been endeavouring to defend ; and, as Dr. Priestley has here generously acknowledged its propriety, it becomes us to acknowledge, on the other hand, that every species of zeal for sentiments, in which a concern for the everlasting welfare of men is wanting is an unhallowed kind of fire ; for which whoever indulges it will receive no thanks from Him whose cause he may imagine himself to have espoused.
I am, &c.
* Rom. ix, 30—32.