« PreviousContinue »
er of mere novelty, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Fourthly, If the success of the apostles was owing to the novelty of their mission, it might have been expected, that, at Athens, where a taste for hearing and telling of new things occupied the whole attention of the people, their success would have been the greatest. Every body knows that a congeniality of mind in an audience, to the things proposed, wonderfully facilitates the reception of them. Now, as the Gospel was as much of a novelty to them as to the most barbarous nations, and as they were possessed of a peculiar turn of mind, which delighted in every thing of that nature, it might have been expected, on the above hypothesis, that a harvest of souls would there have been gathered in. But, instead of this, the gospel is well known to have been less successful in this famous city than in many other places.
Fifthly, Some of the most striking effects, both in early and latter ages, were not accompanied with the circumstance of novelty. The sermon of Peter to the inhabitants of Jerusalem* contained no new doctrine ; it only pressed upon them the same things, for substance, which they had heard and rejected from the lips of Christ himself; and on a pre-judgment of the issue by the usual course of things, they would probably have been considered as more likely to reject Peter's doctrine than that of Christ ; because when once people have set their hands to a business, they are generally more loth to relinquish it and own themselves in the wrong, than at first to forbear to engage in it. And, as to latter times, the effects produced by the preaching of Whitefield, Edwards and others, were many of them upon people not remarkably ignorant, but who had attended preaching of a similar kind all their lives without any such effect. The former, it is well known, preached the same doctrines in Scotland and America, as the people were used to hear every Lord's day ; and that with great effect among persons of a lukewarm and careless description. The latter in his Narrative of the work of God in and about Northampton, represents the inhabitants as having been “ a rational and understanding people.” Indeed, they must have been such
* Acts ii.
or they could not have understood the compass of argument contained in Mr. Edwards' Sermons on Justification, which were delivered about that time, and are said to have been the means of great religious concern among the hearers. Nor were these effects produced by airs and gestures, or any of those extraordinary things in the manner of the preacher, which give a kind of novelty to a sermon, and sometimes tend to move the affections of the hearers. Mr. Prince, who, it seems, had often heard Mr. Edwards preach, and observed the remarkable conviction which attended bis ministry, describes, in his Christian history, his manner of preaching. “ He was a preacher,” says he, “ of a low and moderate voice, a natural delivery, and without any agitation of body, or any thing else in the manner to excite attention, except his habitual and great solemnity, looking and speaking as in the presence of God, and with a weighty sense of the matter delivered."*
Sixthly, Suppose the circumstance of Novelty to bave great efficacy, the question is, with respect to such preaching as that of the Methodists, whether it has efficacy enough to render the truth of the doctrine of no account? It is well known that the main doctrines which the Methodists have taught, are, Man's lost condition by nature, and salvation by the atonement of Christ : but these, according to Dr. Priestly, are false doctrines ; no part of Christianity, but the “ corruptions” of it; and “such as must tend, if they have any effect, to relax the obligations to virtue.” But, if so, how came it to pass that the preaching of them should “ civilize and Christianize mankind ?" Novelty may do wonders, it is granted; but still the nature of those wonders will correspond with the nature of the principles taught. All that it can be supposed to do is to give additional energy to the principles which it accompanies. The heating of a furnace seven times hotter than usual, would not endure it with the properties of water; and water put into the most powerful motion, would not be capable of producing the effects of fire. One would think, it were equally evident, that falsehood,
. *Gillies's Historical Collections, Vol. II. p. 196.
though accompanied with novelty, could never have the effect of truth.
Once more : It may be questioned, whether the generality of people who make up Socinian congregations stand in less need of a change of character and conduct than others ? Mr. Belsbam says, that “ rational Christians are often represented as indifferent to practical religion ; and admits though with apparent reluctance, that “there bas been some plausible ground for the accusation." Dr. Priestley admits the same thin, and they both go about to account for it in the same way.* Nor, whether their method of accounting for it be just, or noi, idey admit the fact; and from hence we may conclude, that the generality of “ rational Christians” are not so righteous as to need no repentance ; and that the reason why their preaching does not turn sinners to righteousness, is not owing to their want of an equal proportion of sinners to be turned.
But supposing the Socinian congregations were generally so vir. tuous as to need no great change of character ; or if they did, so well informed that nothing could strike them as a novelty ; that is not the case with the bulk of mankind amongst whom they live. Now, if a great change of character may be produced by the mere power of novelty, why do not Dr. Priestley and those of his sentiments go forth, like some others to the highways and hedges? Why does he not surprise the benighted populace into the love of God and holiness, with his new doctrines ? (New he must acknowl. edge, they are to them.) If false doctrine, such as that which the Methodists have taught, may, through the power of novelty, do such wonders, what might not be expected from the true ? I have been told that Dr. Priestley has expressed a wish to go into the streets and preach to the common people. Let him or those of his sentiments, make the trial. Though the people of Birmingham have treated him so uncivilly, I hope both he and they would meet with better treatment in other parts of the country ; and if by the power of novelty they can turn but a few sinners from the error of their ways, and save their souls from death, it will be an object worthy of their attention. * Mr. Belsham's Sermon, p. 32. Dr. Priestley's Discourses on various sub
jects, p. 95.
But, should Dr. Priestley, or any others of his sentiments, go forth on such an errand, and still retain their principles, they must reverse the declaration of our Lord, and say, We come not to call sinners, but the righteous to repentance All their hope must be in the uncontaminated youth, or the better sort of people, whose habits in the path of vice are not so strong but that they may be overcome. Should they, in the course of their labours, behold a malefactor approaching the hour of his execution, what must they do ? Alas ! like the priest and the levite, they must pass by on the other side. They could not so much as admonish him to repen. tance, with any degree of hope ; because they consider “ all late repentance, and especially after long and confirmed babits of vice, as absolutely and necessarily ineffectual."'* Happy for many a poor wretch of that description, happy especially for the poor thief upon the cross, that Jesus Christ acted on a different principle.
These brethren ar e matters that come within the knowledge of every man of observation ; and it behoves you, in such cases, to know not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.
I am, &c. * See Dr. Priestley's Discourses on Various Subjecte, p. 238. Also his Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity, p. 156.