« PreviousContinue »
The foregoing observations may suffice to show the resemblance of Socinianism to Deism. It remains for me to consider the tendency of the one to the other.
Dr. Priestley seems to admit, that his scheme approaches nearer to that of unbelievers than ours; but then he disowns its having any tendency, on that account, to lead men to Infidelity. On the contrary, he retorts the charge upon his opponents, and asserts his own scheme to have an opposite effect. “ An enemy as I am considered to Christianity, by some,” says he, “I have saved many from that Infidelity into wbich the bigots are forcing them.” The case of the late Mr. Robinson is here introduced as an example to confirm this assertion. The reasoning of Dr. Priestley, on this subject, resembles that of Archbishop Laud, on another. When accused of leaning to Popery, he denied the charge, and gave in a list of twenty-one persons, whom he had not merely saved from going over to that religion, but actually converted them from it to the Protestant faith.* Yet few thinking people imagine the principles of Laud to hare been very unfriendly to Popery; much less that they were adapted to save men from it.
That Socinianism has a direct tendency to Deism, will appear from the following considerations. First : By giving up the plenary inspiration of the scriptures, and allowing them to be the production of fallible men, (of men, who, though too honest knowingly to impose upon others, were, notwithstanding, so far under the influence of inattention, of prejudice, and of misinformation, as to be capable of being imposed upon themselves,) Socinians furnish Infidels with a handle for rejecting them. To give up the plenary inspiration of the scripture3, is to give them up as the word of God, and as binding upon the consciences of men: to which our opponents apparently have no objection. They are seldom, if ever, known to warn mankind, that the rejection of the holy scriptures will endanger their eternal welfare. Nor can they do so, consistently with what they elsewhere plead for, that “all differences in modes of worship, may be only different modes of endeavouring to honour and obey our common Parent” Under the pre
* Neale's History of the Puritans. Vol. II1, Index, Art. Laud.
tence of appealing to the reason of unbelievers, they neglect to address themselves to their hearts and consciences. If the cause of Infidelity lie in the want of evidence, or if those who leaned towards it were ingenious and disinterested inquirers after truth, solemn warnings might be less necessary. But, if it lie in the temper of their hearts, which blinds their minds to the most convincing proofs, their hearts and consciences must be addressed, as well as their understandings. The sacred writers and preachers always proceeded upon this principle. This only will account for such language as the following : The blindness of their HEART.Lest they should understand with their HEART, and be converted.Repent and believe the gospel.-If God, peradventure, will give them REPENTANCE to the acknowledging of the truth. This was the method of John the Baptist, of Christ, and his apostles, in their addresses to unbelievers : and whatever addresses are made to Infidels, whether Jews or Deists, in which the sin of unbelief and the danger of persisting in it, are not insisted on, they will tend to harden them in Infidelity, rather than to recover them out of it. Dr. Priestley, in effect, acknowledges, that the cause of Infidelity lies in the temper of the heart ; and yet, when he addresses himself to Infidels, he seems to consider them as merely in want of evidence, and fosters in them an idea of their security, notwithstanding their rejection of the gospel. This is manifestly the tendency of his Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France.
Dr. Priestley acknowledges, that men seldom reject Christianity in theory, till they have long disregarded it in practice.* That is, they seldom believe it to be false, without their hearts being fully inclined to have it so. Let us then consider a character of this description, in his examination of Christianity. He has long disregarded the practice of it, and begins now to hesitate about its truth. If he read a defence of it upon our principles, he will find the authority of heaven vindicated ; his own sceptical spirit condemned; and is warned that he fall not upon a rock that will prove his eternal ruin. He throws it aside in resentment; calls
* Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Vol. II. Preface, p. ix. Vol. II.
the writer a bigot ; and considers the warning given him, as an insult to his dignity. Still, however, there is a sting left behind, which he knows not how to extract; a something which says within him, How, if it should be true ? He takes up a defence of Christianity upon Socinian principles ; suppose Dr. Priestley's Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France. He is now brought to a better humour. Here is no threatening; no imminent danger. The sting is extracted. The reasoning, in many parts, is plausible ; but, having long wished to disbelieve Christianity, it makes little or no impression upon him; especially as it seems to be of no great consequence if he do so. It is only rejecting that entirely, which professed Christians reject in part. It is only throwing off the testimony and opinions of fallible men. What will be his next step, is not very difficult to conjecture.
By allowing part of the Gospels to be spurious, Socinian writers enable the Jews to ask, with an air of triumph, “How are we sure that the remainder is authentic ?»* We are often told, that the Jews can never embrace what is called orthodox Christianity, because of its inconsistency with one of the first principles of their religion, the unity of God. We do not ask them, however, to give up the unity of God. On the contrary, we are fully persuaded, that our principles are entirely consistent with it. But this is more than our opponents can say, with regard to the inspiration of the scriptures; a principle as sacred, and as important with the Jews, as the unity of God itself. Were they to embrace Dr. Priestley’s notions of Christianity, they must give up this principle, and consider their own sacred writings in a much meaner light than they at present do. They have no conception of the Old Testament being a mere, “authentic history of past transactions ;” but profess to receive it as the very word of God; the infallible rule of faith and practice. Whenever they shall receive the New Testament, there is reason to conclude it will be under the same character, and for the same purposes. While they consider their own scriptures as divinely inspired, and hear professed Christians acknowledge, that “part of their Gospels is spurious ;":
* Mr. D. Levi's Letters to Dr. Priestley, p. 82.
they will be tempted to look down upon Christianity with scorn, and so be hardened in their iufidelity.
Secondly: If the sacred writings be not received for the purposes for which they were professedly given, and for which they were actually appealed to by Christ and his apostles, they are in effect, rejected ; and those who pretend to embrace them for other purposes, will themselves be found to have passed the boundaries of Christianity, and to be walking in the paths of Infidelity. We have seen, in Letter XII. that the scriptures profess to be the word of God, and the rule of faith and practice. Now, if any man believe in revelation, he must receive it as being what it professes to be and for all the purposes for which it professes to have been written. The Monthly Review suggests, that " the scriptures were never designed to settle disputed theories, or to decide speculative, controverted questions, even in religion and morality."* But, if so, what must we think of their assuming to be the rule of faith and practice ? what must we think of Christ and his apostles, who appealed to them for the truth of their doctrines and the goodness of their precepts ? On the principles of our opponents, they must have been either weak or wicked. If they considered them as the standard of faith and practice, they must have been weak : if they did not, and yet appealed to them as a decisive test, they were certainly wicked. In either case, their testimony is unworthy of regard; which is downright Infidelity.
Thirdly: By the degrading notions which Socinians entertain of the person of Christ, they do what in them lies to lessen the sin of rejecting him; and afford the adversaries of the gospel a ground for accusing him of presumption ; which must necessarily harden them in unbelief. The Jews consider their nation, according to the sentimentss of orthodox Christians, as lying under the charge of “ crucifying the LORD and Saviour of the world ; but, according to those of Dr. Priestley, as only having crucified “a prophet, that was sent to them in the first instance.”+ Such a consideration diminishes the degree of their guilt ; tends to render them
* Monthly Review Enlarged, Vol. X. p. 357.
+ Mr. David Levi's Letters to Dr. Priestley, p. 14,
more indifferent; and, conquently, must barden them in infidelity. By considering our Lord as merely a prophet, Socinians also furnish the Jews with the charge of presumption ; a weighty objection, indeed, against bis Messiahship! “ He preached himself," says Mr. Levi, “as the light of the world; wbich is an instance not to be paralleled in scripture : for the duty of a prophet consisted in his delivery of God's word or message to the people ; not in presumptuously preaching himself. Again, we meet with the same example in John xiv. 6. where Jesus preaches himself, as the way, the truth, and the life.” From all which he concludes, “It is manifest that he was not sent by God to us as a prophet ; seeing he was so deficient in the essential character of a prophet.”* How Dr. Priestley, upon his principles, will be able to answer this reasoning, I cannot tell. Though he has written a reply to Mr. Levi, I observe he has passed over this part of the subject very lightly; offered nothing that sufficiently accounts for our Lord's preaching himself as the light of the world, the way, the truth, and the life, upon the supposition of his being merely a prophet.
Fourthly : The progress which Socinianism has made, has generally been towards Infidelity. The ancient Sociniars, though they went great lengths, are, nevertheless, far outdone by the moderns. If we look over the Racovian Catechism, printed at Amsterdam in 1652, we shall find such sentiments as the following. “No suspicion can possibly creep into the mind concerning those authors, (the sacred writers,) as if they had not had exact cognizance of the things which they described; in that some of them were eye and ear-witnesses of the things which they set down, and the others were fully and accurately informed by them concerning the same. It is altogether incredible, that God, whose goodness and providence are immense, hath suffered those writings wherein he hath proposed his will, and the way to eternal life, and which, through the succession of so many ages, have, by all the godly, been received and approved as such, to be any ways corrupted.”+ I need not go about to prove, that these sen
* Mr. David Levi's Letters to Dr. Priestley, p. 24.
† Racovian Catechism, p. 3. 4.