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they must bave known him to be a mere man. But, if a union of the divine and human natures be in itself impossible, that impossibility might as well appear to Dr. Priestley as to the apostlcs, if they were aninspired ; and he might as well maintain the infallibility of his own notions, relative to the person of Christ, as of theirs.
In fine : Let Dr. Priestley view the subject in what light he may, if he deny the divine inspiration of the apostles, he will never be able to maintain their infallibility, on any ground but what would equally infer his own.
When Mr. Burn charged Dr. Priestley with denying the infallibility of the apostolic testimony, he principally founds his charge on what the Doctor had written in a miscellaneous work called, The Theological Repository: in which he maintained, that “ some texts of the Old Testament had been improperly quoted by writers in the New;" who, it seems, were some times “ misled by Jewish prejudices."* Mr. Burn inferred, that if they were misled in their application of one text, they were liable to the same thing in others; and that, if so, we could have no security whatever for their proper application of any passage, or for any thing like infallibility attending their testimony. One would think, this is not the most inconclusive mode of reckoning that ever was adopted: and how does Dr. Priestley refute it ? He replies, “ It does not follow, because I suppose the apostles to have been fallible in some things, that they were therefore, fallible in all.” He contends, that he always considered them as infallible, in what respects the person of Christ ; as a proof of which he alleges his always baving " appealed to their testimony, as being willing to be decided by it.” And yet we generally suppose, a single failure proves a writer fallible, as really as a thousand; and, as to his appealing to their testimony, and being willing to be decided by it, we generally appeal to the best evidence we can obtain, and must be decided by it. But this does not prove, that we consider that evidence as infallible. Dr. Priestley has appealed to the Fathers ; yet he will hardly pretend that their testimony is infallible; or, that they were incapable of contradicting either themselves, or
* Letters to Mr. Burn, Letters I. II.
one another, even in those matters concerning which the appeal is made. If he will, however, he must suppose them to have differed very widely from writers of a later date. Where is the bistorian who has written upon the opinions of characters of a body of men, even of those of his own 'imes, but who is liable, and likely, in some particulars, to be contradicted by other historians of the same period, and equally respectable ?*,
To be sure, if Dr. Priestley thinks proper to declare, that he believes the apostles, uninspired as they were, to have been infallible when they applied passages of the Old Testament to the person of Christ ; and that, notwithstanding their being fallible, and misled by Jewish prejudices in their application of passages on other subjects, nobody has a right to say he does not. Thus much may be said, however, that he will find it no very easy task, to prove himself, in this manner, a Rational Christian. If the apostles are to be considered as uninspired, and were actually misled by Jewish prejudices in their application of some Old Testament passages, it will require no small degree of labour to convince people in general, that we can have any security for their not being so in others.
Mr. Burn, with a view to illustrate his argument, supposed an example; viz. the application of Psalm xlv. 6. to Christ, in Heb. i. 8. He observes that, according to the foregoing hypothesis, 6 there is no dependence to be placed upon the argument; because the Apostle, in his application of this scripture to the Messiah, was misled by a prejudice common among the Jews, respecting this, and other passages in the Old Testament. Mr. Burn does not mean to say that Dr. Priestley had, in this manner, actually rejected the argument from Heb. i. 8. but barely, that, according to his hypothesis, he might do so: he preserves the principle of his opponent's objection, as he himself expresses it; but does not mean to assert that he had applied that principle to this particular passage. And how does Dr. Priestley reply to this? Why, by alleging that he had not applied the above principle to the passage in question, but had given it a sense, which allowed the propriety of
* See this truth more fully illustrated in a Letter of Dr. Edward Williams Dr. Priestley prefixed to his Abridgment of Dr. Owen on the Hebrews.
its being applied to Christ : that is, he had not made that use of a principle which might be made of it, and which no one asscrted he had made of it. Dr. Priestley is, doubtless, possessed of great abilities, and has had large experience in controversial writing : to what a situation then, must he have been reduced, to have recourse to such an answer as the above!
The question between Mr. Burn and Dr. Priestley, if I understand it, is not, Whether the latter appealed to the scriptures for the truth of his opinions; but, Whether his supposing the sacred writers, in some cases, to apply scripture improperly, does not render that appeal inconsistent ? not, Whether he bad allowed the propriety of the Apostle's quoting the sixth verse of the forty-fifth Psalm, and applying it, in the first chapter of the Hebrews, to Christ: but, Whether, upon the principle of the sacred writers being liable to make, and having actually made, some improper quotations, be might not have disallowed it? not, Whether the Apostles did actually fail in this or that particular subject; but, Whether, if they failed in some instances, they were not liable to fail in others; and, whether any dependence could be placed on their decisions ? not, Whether the Apostles testified' things which they had seen and heard from the beginning; but, Whether the infallibilty can be supported merely upon that ground, without supposing that the Holy Spirit assisted their memories, guided their judgments, and superintended their productions ? If the reader of that controversy keep the above points in view, he will easily perceive the futility of a great many of Dr. Priestley's answers, notwithstanding all his positivity and triumph, and his proceeding to admonish Mr. Burn to repentance.
Dr. Priestley, in bis Sixth Letter to Mr. Burn, denies, that he makes the reason of the individual the sole umpire in matters of faith. But, if the sacred writers, “in some things which they advanced were fallible, and misled by prejudice;” what dependence can be placed upon them? Whether the reason of the individual be a proper umpire in matters of faith, or not, the writings of the Apostles, on the foregoing hypothesis, can make no such pretence. Dr. Priestley may allege, that we must distinguish between those things to which the Apostles had not given much attention, and other things to which they had ; those in which they were prejudiced, and others in which they were unprejudiced; those concerning which they had not the means of exact information, and others of a different description : but can he himself, at this distance of time, or even if he had been cotemporary with them, always tell what those cases are ? How, in many instances at least, can he judge, with any certainty, of the degree of attention which they gave to things; of the prejudiced or unprejudiced state of their minds; or, of the means of information which they possessed? Or, if he could decide with satisfaction to himself on these matters, how are the bulk of mankind to judge, who are not possessed of his powers and opportunities, but who are equally interested in the affair with himself? Are they implicitly to rely op his opinion ; or, to supplicate heaven for a new revelation, to point out the defects and errors of the old one? In short: let Dr. Priestley profess what regard he may for the scriptures, if what he advances be true, they can be no proper test of truth; and if the reason of the individual be not the sole umpire in these matters, there can be no umpire at all; but all must be left in gloomy doubt, and dreadful uncertainty.*
The generality of Socinian writers, as well as Dr. Priestley, write degradingly of our only rule of faith. The scriptures profess to be profitable for DOCTRINE, and to be able to make men wise unto salvation. The testimony of the Lord is said to be sure: making wise the simple; and those who made it their study, professed to have obtained more understanding than all their teachers. But Mr. Lindsey considers the scriptures as unadapted to promote any high perfection in knowledge, and supposes, that they are left in obscurity, with design to promote an occasion of charity, candour, and forbearance. Speaking of the doctrine of the person of Christ, “Surely it must be owned,” he says, “to have been left in some obscurity in the scriptures themselves, which might mislead readers, full of Heathen prejudices, (otherwise so many men, wise
* The reader will observe, that the foregoing remarks on the controversy between Mr. Burn and Dr. Priestley, have nothing to do with that part of it which relates to the riots at Birmingham, but merely with that on the person of Christ.
and good, would not have differed, and still continne to differ, concerning it;) and so left, it should seem, on purpose to whet human industry, and the spirit of inquiry into the things of God, to give scope for the exercise of men's charity, and mutual forbearance of one another, and to be one great means of cultivating the moral dispositions ; which is plainly the design of the Holy Spirit of God in the Christian revelation, and not any high perfection in knowledge, which so few can attain."*
On this extraordinary passage, one might inquire, First, If the scriptures have left the subject in obscurity, why might not the mistake of those who hold the divinity of Christ, (supposing them to be mistaken,) have been accounted for, without alleging, as Mr. Lindsey elsewhere does, that “they are determined, at all events, to believe Christ to be a different being from what he really was ; that there is no reasoning with them; and that they are to be pitied, and considered as being under a debility of mind, in this respect, however sensible and rational in others.”+ If wise and good men have differed upon the subject in all ages, and that owing to the obscurity with which it is enveloped in the scriptures themselves, why this abusive and insulting language? Is it any disgrace to a person not to see that clearly in the scriptures, which is not clearly there to be seen?
Secondly: If the scriptures have indeed left the subject in obscurity, how came Mr. Lindsey to be so decided upon it? The 66 high perfection of knowledge” which he possesses, must, undoubtedly, have been acquired from some other quarter ; seeing it made no part of the design of the Holy Spirit in the Christian revelation. But, if so, we have no further dispute with him; as, in what respects religion, we do not aspire to be wise above what is written.
Thirdly: Let it be considered, whether the principle on which Mr. Lindsey encourages the exercise of charity and mutual forbearance, do not cast a heavy reflection upon the character of God. The scriptures, in what relates to the person of Christ, (a subject on which Dr. Priestley allows the writer to have been infallible,)
* Apology, Chap. II. + Catechist, Inquiry VI. VOL. II.