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are left obscure ; so obscure, as to mislead readers full of Heathen prejudices ; nay, and with the very design of misleading them. God himself, it seems, designed that they should stumble on in ignorance, error, and disagreement, till, at last, wearied with their fate, and finding themselves united in one common calamity, they might become friends. But what is this friendship? Is it not at the expense of him who is supposed to have spread their way with snares, or (which is the same thing) with misleading obscurity ? Is it any other than the friendship of the world, which is enmity with God?
In perfect harmony with Mr. Lindsey is the language of a writer in the Monthly Review. “ The nature and design of the scripture,” he says, “is not to settle disputed theories, nor to decide upon speculative, controverted questions, even in religion and morality. The scriptures, if we understand any thing of them, are intended not so much to make us wiser, as to make us better; not to solve the doubts, but, rather, to make us obey the dictates of our consciences.”* The holy scriptures were never designed, then, to be a rule of faith or practice ; but merely a stimulative. In matters of speculation, as all disputed subjects will be termed, whether doctrinal or practical,) they have no authority, it seems, to decide any question. What saith the scripture? therefore, would now be an impertinent question. You are to find out what is truth, and what is righteousness, by your reason and your conscience; and when you have obtained a system of religion and morality to your mind, scripture is to furnish you with motives to reduce it to practice. If this be true, to what purpose are all appeals to the scriptures on controverted subjects ; and why do Socinians pretend to appeal ta them? Why do they not honestly acknowledge, that they did not learn their religion from thence, and therefore refuse to have it tried at that bar? This would save much labour. To what purpose do they object to particular passages, as interpolations, or mis-translations, or the like ; when the whole, be it ever so pure, has nothing at all to do in the decision of our controversies? We have been used to speak of con
* Review of Horsley's Sermon, March, 1793.
science having but one master, even Christ : but now, it
seeins, conscience is its own master, and Jesus Christ does not pretend to dictate to it, but merely to assist in the execution of its decisions !
Mr. Belsham carries the matter still further. This gentleman, not satisfied, it seems, with disclaiming an implicit confidence in holy scripture, pretends to find authority, in the scriptures themselves, for so doing. “ The Bereans," he says, “ are commended for not taking the word even of an apostle, but examining the scriptures for themselves, whether the doctrines which they heard were true, and whether St. Paul's reasoning was just.”* I do not recollect, that the Bereans were commended for not taking the word of an apostle ; but for not rejecting it without examination, as the Jews did at Thessalonica. But, granting it were otherwise, their situation was different from ours. They had not then had an opportunity of obtaining evidence that the apostles were divinely inspired, or that the gospel which they preached was a message from God. This, surely, is a circumstance of importance. There is a great difference between their entertaining some doubt of the truth of the gospel, till they had fully examined its evidences; and our still continuing to doubt of its particular doctrines and reasonings, even though we allow it to be a message from God. To this may be added, that, in order to obtain evidence, the Bereans searched the scriptures. By comparing the facts which Paul testified, with the prophecies which went before ; and the doctrines which he preached, with those of the Old Testament; they would judge, whether his message was from God, or not. There is a great difference between the criterion of the Bereans and that of the Socinians. The scriptures of the Old Testament were the allowed standard of the former; and they employed their reason to find out their meaning, and their agreement with New-testament facts : but the authority and agreement of the Old and New Testaments will not satisfy the latter, unless what they contain agree also with their pre-conceived notions of what is fit and reasonable. The one tried what, for aught they at that time knew, were mere private reasonings, by the scriptures; but the other try the scrip
* Sermon on the Importance of Truth, p. 39.
seem to expect that their opponents, should quote the scriptures accordingly ; and, if they do not, are very liberal in insinuating, that their design is to impose upon the vulgar. But, though it be admitted, that every translation must needs have its imperfections, and that those imperfections ought to be corrected by fair and impartial criticism : yet, where alterations are made, by those who have an end to answer by them, they ought always to be suspected, and will be so, by thinking and impartial people.
If we must quote particular passages of scripture, after the manner in which our adversaries translate them, we must also avoid quoting all those which they object to as interpolations. Nor shall we stop here: we must, on certain occasions, leave out whole chapters, if not whole books. We must never refer to the reasonings of the apostles, but consider that they were subject to be misled by Jewish prejudices ; nor even to historical facts, unless we can satisfy ourselves that the historians, independent of their being divinely inspired, were possessed of sufficient means of infor. mation. In short, if we must never quote scripture, except according to the rules imposed upon us by Socinian writers, we must not quote it at all : not, at least, till they shall have indulged us with a bible of their own, that shall leave out every thing on which we are to place no dependence. A publication of this sort would, doubtless, be an acceptable present to the Christian world; would be comprised in a very small compass ; and be of infinite service in cutting short a great deal of unnecessary controversy, into which, for want of such a criterion, we shall always be in danger of wandering.
Dr. Priestley, in his Animadversions on Mr. Gibbon's History, takes notice of what is implied in that gentleman's endeavouring to lessen the number and validity of the early martyrdoms; namely, a consciousness that they afforded an argument against him. " Mr. Gibbon," says the Doctor, “ appears to have been sufficiently sensible of the value of such a testimony to the truth of the gospel history, as is furnished by the early martyrdoms, and, therefore, he takes great pains to diminish their number ; and, when the facts cannot be denied, he endeavours to exhibit them in the most unfavourable light."* Judge, brethren, whether this picture does not bear too near a resemblance to the conduct of Dr. Priestley, and other Socinian writers, respecting the holy scriptures.
I have heard of persons, who, when engaging in a law-suit, and fearing lest certain individuals should appear in evidence against them, have so contrived matters as to sue the witnesses ; and so, by making them parties in the contest, have disqualified them for bearing testimony. And what else is the conduct of Dr. Priestley, with respect to those passages in the New Testament, which speak of Christ as God? We read there, that The Word, who was made flesh, and dwelt among us, was God. Thomas exclaimed, My Lord and my GOD. Of whom as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.—Unto the Son he saith, thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.-Feed the church of God, which he hath
purchased with his own blood.--Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.f But Dr. Priestley asserts, that “in no sense whatever, not even in the lowest of all, is Christ so much as called God in all the New Testament."! The method taken by this writer to enable him to hazard such an assertion, without being subject to the charge of downright falsehood, could be no other than that of laying a kind of arrest upon the foregoing passages, with others, as being either interpolations, or mis-translations, or something that shall answer the same end ; and, by these means, imposing silence upon them, as to the subject in dispute. To be sure, we may go on, killing one scripture testimony, and stoning another, till, at length, it would become an easy thing to assert, that there is not an instance, in all the New Testament, in which our opinions are confronted.' But to what does it all amount? When we are told, that " Christ is never so much as called God, in all the New Testament ;” the question is, Whether we are to understand it of the New Testament, as it was left by the sacred writers; or, as corrected, amended, curtailed, and interpreted, by a set of controvertists, with a view to make it accord with a favourite system?
* Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part II, p. 217.
+ John i. 1. 14. xx. 28.
Acts xx. 28. 1 Joha
Rom. ix. 5. Heb. 1. 8.
Letters to Mr. Burn, Letter I.