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timents are betrayed into the hands of Infidels by modern Socinians. Dr. Priestley, (as we have seen in Letter XII.) supposes the sacred writers to have written upon subjects “to wbich they had not given much attention, and concerning which they had not the means of exact information,” and, in such cases, considered himself at liberty to disregard their productions, Instead of maintaining that the sacred writings, cannot have been corrupted, modern Socinians are continually labouring to prove
that they are so. • Some, who are better acquainted with Socinians and Deists, than I profess to be, have observed, that it is very common for those who go over to Infidelity, to pass through Socinianism, in their way. If this be the case, it is no more than may be expected according to the natural course of things. It is not common I believe, for persons who go over to Socinianism, to go directly from Calvinism, but through one or other of the different stages of Arminianism, or Arianism, or both. Dr. Priestley was once, as he himself informs us, “ a Calvinist, and that of the straitest sect. Afterwards,” he adds, “ he became a High Arian, next a Low Arian, and then a Socinian, and then, in a little time, a Socinian of the lowest kind, in which Christ is considered as a mere man, the son of Joseph and Mary, and, naturally, as fallible and peccable as Moses, or any other prophet :” to which he might have added, and in which the plenary inspiration of the scriptures is given up.* The Doctor also informs us, that he “ does not know when his creed will be fixed.”And yet he tells us, in his volume of Sermons, (page 95,) that “Unitarians are not apt to entertain any doubt of the truth of their principles.” But this, I suppose, is to be understood of their principles only in one point of view; namely, as they are opposed to what is commonly called orthodoxy : for as they are opposed to Infidelity, they are apt to entertain doubts concerning them, as much, and perhaps more than any other men; and, in that line of improvement, to hold themselves open to the reception of greater and greater illuminations. It is in this direc
*Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part II. pp. 33--35.
+ Defence of Unitarianism, for 1787, p. 111.
tion that Dr. Priestley has generally moved hitherto: and should he, before he fixes his creed, go one degree further, is there any doubt where that degree will land him ? Should it be upon the shores of downright Infidelity, it can afford no greater matter of surprise to the Christian world, than that of an Arian becoming a Socinian, or a Deist an Atheist.
By the following extract from a letter, wbich I received from a gentleman of candour and veracity, and extensive acquaintance in the literary world, it appears, that several of the most eminent characters amongst professed unbelievers in the present age, were but a few years ago, in the scheme of Socinus : “I think I may say, without exaggeration, that, of my acquaintance, the greater part of literary men who have become Unitarians, are either sceptics, or strongly tending that way. I could instance in — ,
- ,- ,- ,- , and many others. About four months ago, I had a pretty long conversation with one of the above gentlemen, (as intelligent as any man I know,) on this subject. He reminded me of a conversation that had passed betwixt us about a year and a half before, in which I had observed, there was a near affinity between Unitarianism and Deism ; and told me, he was then rather surprised I should suppose so, but that now he was, completely of that opinion; and that from very extensive observations, there was nothing he was more certain of, than that the one led to the other. He remarked how much Dr. Priestley was mistaken, in supposing he could, by cashiering orthodoxy, form what he called Rational Christians ; for that, after following him thus far, they would be almost sure to carry their speculations to a still greater extent. All the professed unbelievers I have met with, rejoice in the spread of Unitarianism, as favourable to their views.”
Christian brethren, permit me to request, that the subject may be seriously considered. Whether the foregoing positions be sufficiently proved, it becomes not me to decide. A reflection or two, however may be offered, upon the supposition that they are so; and with these I shall conclude.
First : If that system which embraces the deity and atonement of Christ, with other correspondent doctrines, be friendly to a life of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness ; it must be of God, and it
becomes us to abide by it; not because it is the doctrine of Calvin, or of any other man that was uninspired, but as being the gospel which we have received from Christ and his apostles ; wherein we stand, and by which we are saved.
Secondly : If that system of religion which rejects the deity and atonement of Christ, with other correspendent doctrines, be unfriendly to the conversion of sinners to a life of holiness, and of professed unbelievers, to faith in Christ; if it be a system which irreligious men are the first, and serious Christians the last to embrace; ifit be found to relax the obligations to virtuous affection and behaviour, by relaxing the great standard of virtue itself; if it promote neither love to God under his own true character, nor benevolence to men, as it is exemplified in the spirit of Christ and his apostles; if it lead those who embrace it to be wise in their own eyes, and, instead of humbly deprecating God's righteous displeasure, er en in their dying moments, arrogantly to challenge his justice : if the charity which it inculcates be founded in an indifference to divine truth; if it be inconsistent with ardent love to Christ, and veneration for the holy scriptures ; if the happiness which it promotes be at variance with the joys of the gospel : and, finally, if it diminish the motives to gratitude, obedience, and heavenly mindedness, and have a natural tendency to Infidelity ; it must be an immoral system, and consequently not of God. It is not the gospel of Christ, but another gospel. Those who preach it, preach another Jesus, whom the apostles did not preach ; and those who receive it, receive another spirit, which they never imbibed. It is not the light which cometh from above, but a cloud of darkness that hath arisen from beneath, tending to eclipse it. It is not the high way of truth, which is a way of holiness ; but a bye-path of error, which misleads the unwary traveller ; and of which, as we value our immortal interests, it becomes us to beware. We need not be afraid of evidence, or of free inquiry. For if irreligious men be the first, and serious Christians be the last, who embrace the Socinian system; it is easy to perceive, that the avenues which lead to it are not, as its abettors would persuade you to
think, an openness to conviction, de a free and impartial inquiry after truth: bat a heart secretly detected to the true character ad gmerament of God, and duotusted nith the gospel-ray of xalratin,
On the first appearance of the foregoing Letters, in 1793, some of the most respectable characters amongst the Socinians, and who have since affected to treat them with contempt, acknowl-' edged that they were "well worthy of their attention.” No answer, however, appeared to them till 1796, when Dr. Toulmin published his Practical Efficacy of the Unitarian Doctrine, and Mr. Kentish his sermon, on the moral Tendency of the Genuine Christian Doctrine. To these publications, a reply was written in 1797, entitled, Socinianism Indefensible, on the ground of its Moral Tendency. Mr. Kentish wrote again, and Dr. Toulmin has lately published a second edition of his piece, with large additions. I had no inclination to add any thing in reply to Mr. Kentish, being well satisfied that the public should judge from the evidence that was before them. And as to Dr. Toulmin, his second edition is, like his first, full of irrelative matter.
Having been charged with shifting the ground of the argument and begging the question, this writer labours to persuade his readers that he has done neither. “He did not intend,” he says, “nor profess, to give a full and minute answer to Mr Fuller's tract. He meant not much more than to take an occasion from that publication, to bring the general question, namely the practical efficacy of the Unitarian doctrine, to the test of scriptural facts."'* This is acknowledging, that if he had professed to give a proper answer to the work, he would have been obliged by the laws of just reasoning, to keep to the ground of his opponent. But intending only to write a piece that should bear some allusion to it, he considered himself a liberty to choose his own ground. But if this were his intention, Why did he profess, at his outset, to "enter the lists” with me; and to comprehend in his performance " the main point to which a reply to my Letters need be directed ?" If this be not professing to answer a work, nothing is.
* Practical Efficacy. p. 133. Second Edition. Vol. II.