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THE SYSTEMS COMPARED AS TO THEIR TENDENCY TO CONVERT
Socinian writers are very sanguine on the tendency of their views of things to convert Infidels; namely, Jews, Heathens, and Mahometans. They reckon that our notions of the Trinity form the grand obstacle to their conversion. Dr. Priestley often suggests, thal so long as we maintain the Deity of Jesus Christ, there is no hope of converting the Jews, because this doctrine contradicts the first principle of their religion, the Unity of God. Things, not altogether, but nearly similar, are said concerning the conversion of the Heathens and Mahometans, especially the latter. On this subject, the following observations are submitted to your consideration.
With respect to the Jews, they know very well, that those who believe in the Deity of Christ, profess to believe in the unity of God; and if they will not admit this to be consistent, they must depart from wbat is plainly implied in the language of their ancestors. If the Jews in the time of Christ had thought it impossible, or, which is the same thing, inconsistent with the unity of God, that God the Father should have a Son equal to himself, How came they to attach the idea of equality to that of Sonship? Jesus asserted that God was his own Father; which they understood as making himself equal with God; and therefore sought to kill him as a blasphemer.* Had the Jews affixed those ideas to sonship which are entertained by our opponents ; namely, as implying nothing more than simple humanity, why did they accuse Jesus of blasphemy for assuming it ? they did not deny, that to be God's own Son was to be equal with the Father ; nor did they allege that such an equality would destroy the divine unity: a thought of this kind seems never to have occurred to their minds. The idea to which they objected was, That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God; and hence, it is probable, the profession of this great article was considered in the apostolic age as the criterion of Christianity.* Were this article admitted by the modern Jews, they must reason differently from their ancestors, if they scrupled to admit that Chrtstis equal with the Father.
* John v. 18.
The Jews were greatly offended at our Lord's words ; and his not explaining them so as to remove the stumbling-block out of the way, may serve to teach us how we ought to proceed in removing stumbling-blocks out of the way of their posterity. For this cause they sought to kill him--because he had said that God was his Father, MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL with God.-Jesus said, I and my Father are one. Then they took up stones to stone him. When he told them of many good works that he had shown them, and asked, For which of those works do ye stone me? They replied, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because thou, BEING A MAN MAKEST THYSELF God.t From hence it is evident, that whether Jesus Christ be truly God, or not, they understood him as asserting that he was so; that is; they understood his claiming the relation of God's own Son, and declaring that He and his father were one, as implying so much. This was their stumbling-block. Nor does it appear that Jesus did any thing towards removing it out of their way. It is certain he did not so remove it, as to afford them the least satisfaction : for they continued to think him guilty of the same blasphemy to the last, and, for that, adjudged him worthy of death I If Jesus never thought of being equal with God, it is a pity there should have been such a misunderstanding between them; a misunderstanding that proved the occasion of putting him to death!
Such an bypothesis, to be sure, may answer one end; it may give us a more favourable idea of the conduct of the Jews than we have been wont to entertain. If it does not entirely justify their procedure, it greatly extenuates it. They erred, it seems, in imagining, that Jesus, by declaring himself the Son of God, made himself equal with God; aud thus, through mistaking his meaning, put him to death as a blasphemer. But, then, it might be pleaded
* Acts viii. 37.
^ John v. 18, 10, 30, 33.
Matthew xxvi. 63, 66.
on their behalf, that Jesus never suggested that they were in an error in this matter ; that, instead of informing them that the name Son of God implied nothing more than simple humanity, he went on to say, among other things, That all men should honour the Son, ecen as they honour the Father. And, instead of disowning with abhorrence the idea of making himself God, he seemed to justify it, by arguing from the less to the greater—from the image of the thing to the thing itself.* Now, these things considered, should an impartial jury sit in judg. ment upon their conduct, one would think they could not, with Stephen, bring it in murder ; to make the most of it, it could be nothing worse than manslaughter. All this may tend to conciliate the Jews; as it tends to roll away the reproach which, in the esteem of Christians, lies npon their ancestors for crucifying the Lord of glory : but wbether it will have any influence towards their conversion, is another question. It is possible, that, in pro. portion as it confirms their good opinion of their forefathers, it may confirm their ill opinion of Jesus, for having, by his obscure and ambiguous language, given occasion for such a misunderstanding between them. Could the Jews but once be brought to feel that temper of mind, which it is predicted in their own prophets they shall feel; could they but look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, and be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born ; I should be under do apprehensions respecting their acknowledging his proper divinity, or embracing bim as the great atonement, to the fountain of whose blood they would joyfully repair, that they might be cleansed from their sin and their uncleanness.f
Nearly the same things might be observed respecting Heathens and Mahometans. We may so model the gospel, as almost to accommodate it to their taste: and by this means we may come nearer togetber ; but whether, in so doing, we shall not be rather converted to them, than they to us, deserves to be considered. Christianity may be so heathenized, that a man may believe in it, and yet he no Christian. Were it true, therefore, that Socinianism had a tendency
* John v. 18. and x. 34, 36.
+ Zech. xii, 10, 14. xiji, 1.
to induce professed Infidels, by meeting them, as it were, half-way, to take upon them the Christian name ; still it would not follow, that it was of any real use. The Popish Missionaries, of the last century, in China, acted upon the principle of accommodation : they gave up the main things in which Christians and Heathens had been used to differ, and allowed the Chinese every favourite species of idolatry. The consequence was, they had a great many converts, such as they were; but thinking people looked upon the Missionaries as more converted to Heathenism, than the Chinese Heathens to Christianity.*
But even this effect is more than may be expected from Socinian doctrines among the Heathen. The Popish Missionaries had engines to work with which Socinians have not. They were sent by an authority, which, at that time, had weight in the world ; and their religion was accompanied with pomp and superstition. These were matters, which though far from recommending their mission to the approbation of serious Christians, yet would be sure to recommend it to the Chinese. They stripped the gospel of all its real glory, and, in its place, substituted a false glory. But Socinianism, while it divests the gospel of all that is interesting and affecting to the souls of men, substitutes nothing in its place. If it be Christianity at all, it is, as the ingenious Mrs. Barbauld is said in time past to have expressed it, “ Christianity in the frigid zone.” It may be expected, therefore, that no considerable number of professed Infidels will ever think it worthy of their attention. Like the Jew, they will pronounce every attempt to convert them by these accommodating principles nugatory ; and be ready to ask, with bim, Whilt they shall do more, by embracing Christianity, than they already do? |
Dr. Priestly, however, is for coming to action. “ Let a free intercourse be opened,” says he, “between Mahometans and Rational, that is, Unitarian Christians, and I shall have no doubt with
* Millor's Propagation of Christianity, Vol. II, pp. 388 438.
+ Mr. Levi's Letters to Dr. Priestley, pp. 76,77.
" Rational, that is, Unitarian Christians.”– Why need Dr. Priestley be so particular in informing his reader that a Rational Christian signifies an Unila
respect to the consequence.” And again. “ Let the Hindoos, as well as the Mabometans, become acquainted with our literature, and have free intercourse with Unitarian Christians, and I have no doubt but the result will be in favour of Christianity."* So, then, when Heathens and Mahometans are to be converted, Trinitarians, like those of Gideon's army that bowed down their knees to drink, must sit at home ; and the whole of the expedition, it seems, must be conducted by Unitarians, as by the three hundred men that lapped. Poor Trinitarians ; deemed unworthy of an intercourse with Heathens ! Well; if you must be denied, as by a kind of Test Act, the privilege of bearing arms in this divine war, surely you have a right to expect, that those who shall be possessed of it, should act valiantly, and do exploits. But what ground have you on which to rest your expectations ?--none, except Dr. Priestley's good conceit of his opinions. When was it known, that any considerable number of Heathens or Mahometans were converted by the Socinian doctrine? Sanguine as the Doctor is on this subject, where are the facts on which his expectations are founded ?
Trinitarians, however, whether Dr. Priestly think them worthy, or not, bave gone among the Heathens, and that not many years ago, and preached what they thought the gospel of Christ ; and, 1 may add, from facts that cannot be disputed, with considerable success. The Dutch, the Danes and the English, have each made some attempts in the East, and I hope, not without some good effects. If we were to call that conversion, which many professors of Christianity would call so without any scruple, we might boast of the conversion of a great many thousands in those parts. But it is acknowledged, that many of the conversions in the East were little,
rian Christian ? To be sure, all the world knew, long enough ago, that rutionality was confined to the Unitarians ! Doubtless, they are the people, and wisdom will die with them! When Dr. Priestley speaks of persons of his own sentiments, he calls them “ Rational Christians ;” when, in the same page, speaking of such as differ from him, he calls them those who assume to them selves the distinguishing title of Orthodox.” Considerations on difference of Opinion, 83. Query. Is the latter of these names assumed, any more than the former ; and, is Dr. Priestley a fit person to reprove a body of people for assuming a name which implies what their adversaries do not admit?
* Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part II. pp. 116,117.