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trines,” she says, “ it is true, among thinking people are losing ground ; but there is still apparent, in that class called serious Christians, a tenderness in exposing them ; a sort of leaning towards them, as in walking over a precipice one should lean to the safest side ; an idea that they are, if not true, at least good to be beleived, and that salutary error is better than a dangerous truth."*
Secondly, Whatever virtue there may be among Socinian converts, it may be questioned whether the distinguished principles of Socinianism have any tendency towards promoting it. The principles which they hold in common with us ; namely, the resurrection of the dead, and a future life, and not those in which they are distinguished from us, are confessedly the springs of their vir. tue. As to the simple humanity of Christ; which is one of the distinguishing principles of Socinianism, Dr. Priestly acknowl. edges, that “the connexion between this simple truth and a regular Christian life is very slight.”† “ T'hat,” says the same author, “ which is most favorable to virtue in Christianity is the expectation of a future state of retribution, grounded on a firm belief of the historical facts recorded in the scriptures ; especially, the mira. cles, the death, and resurrection of Christ. The man who believes these things only, and who, together with this, acknowledges an universal providence, ordering all events ; who is persuaded that our very hearts are constantly open to divine inspection, so that no iniquity or purpose of it, can escape his observation ; will not be a bad man, or a dangerous member of society.”I Now, these are things in which we are all agreed : whatever virtue, therefore is ascribed to them, it is not, strictly speaking, the result of Socinian principles. If, in addition to this, we were to impute a considerable degree of the virtue of Socinian converts to “the principles in which they were educated, and the influence to which they were exposed in the former part of their lives,” we should only say of them what Dr. Priestley says of the virtuous lives of * Remarks on Wakefield's Inquiry on Social Worship.
+ Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 67.
Letter V. to Mr. Burn.
God, through the mediation of his Son, doth not mark iniquity in those that wait on him, yet he might do so consistently with justice; and that his not doing so is of mere grace. I hope these sentiments do not tend to "relax the obligations of virtue.” Let us inquire whether the same may be said of the scheme of our opponents.
It may be thought, that, in these matters, in some of them at least, we are agreed. And, indeed, I suppose few will care to deny, in express terms, that the moral law, consisting of a requisition to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, is an eternal standard of right and wrong. But let it be considered, whether the Socinians, in their descriptions of virtue and vice, do not greatly overlook the former branch of it, and almost confine themselves to those duties which belong to the latter. It has been long observed of writers of that stamp, that they exalt what are called the social virtues, or those virtues which respect society, to the neglect, and often at the expense of others which more immediately respect the God that made us. It is a very common thing for Socinians to make light of religious principle, and to represent it as of little importance to our future well-being. Under the specious pame of liberality of sentiment, they dispense with that part of the will of God which requires every thought to be in subjection to the obedience of Christ; and, under the disguise of candour and charity, excuse those who fall under the divine censure. The Scripture speaks of those who deny the Lord that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction—and of those who receive not the love of the truth, being given up to believe a lie. But the minds of Socinian writers appear to révolt at ideas of this kind: the tenor of their writings is to persuade mankind, that sentiments may be ac- , cepted, or rejected, without endangering their salvation. Infidels have sometimes complained of Christianity, as a kind of insult to their dignity, on account of its dealing in threatenings : but Dr. Priestley, in his Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France, has quite removed this stumbling block out of their way. He accounts for their infidelity in such a way as to acquit them of blame, and enforces Christianity upon them by the most inoffensive motives. Not one word is intimated as if there was any dan
ger as to futurity, though they should continue Infidels, or even Atheists, till death. The only string upon which be barps, as I remember, is, that could they but embrace Christianity, they would be much happier than they are !
If I entertain degrading notions of the person of Christ, and if I err from the truth in so doing, my error, according to Mr. Lindsey, is innocent,* and no one ought to think the worse of me on that account. But if I happen to be of opinion, that he who rejects the deity and atonement of Christ is not a Christian, I give great offence. But wherefore ? Suppose it an error, why should it Dot be as innocent as the former ? and why ought I to be reproached as an illiberal, uncharitable bigot for this, wbile no one ought to think the worse of me for the other ? Can this be any otherwise accounted for, than by supposing that those who reason in this manner, are more concerned for their own honour, than for that of Christ?
Dr. Priestley, it may be noted, makes much lighter of error when speaking on the supposition of its being found in bimself, than when he supposes it to be found in his opponents. He charges Mr. Venn, and others, with “striving to render those who differ from them in some speculative points odious to their fellow christians;" and elsewhere suggests, that, “ we shall not be judged at the last day according to our opinions, but our works ; not according to what we have thought of Christ, but as we have obeyed his commands:"| as if it were no distinguishing property of a good work, that it originate in a good principle; and, as if the meanest opinion, and the most degrading thoughts of Jesus Christ, were consistent with obedience to him. But when he bimself becomes the accuser, the case is altered, and instead of reckoning the supposed errors of the Trinitarians to be merely speculative points, and harmless opinions, they are said to be “ idolatrous, and blasphemous."I but idolatry and blasphemy will not only be
* Apology, 4th edition, p. 48. . t. Consideration on Differences of Opinion, $ III. Defence of Unitarianism for 1786, p. 59 Ditto for 1787, p. 68.
| Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 96.
some Atheists ; and perhaps, we should have as good grounds for · such an imputation in the one case, as he had in the other. *
Among the various Socinian converts, have we ever been used to hear of any remarkable cbange of life or behaviour, which a conversion to their peculiar principles effected ? I hope there are few Calvinistic congregations in the Kingdom, but what could point out examples of persons among them, who at the time of their coming over to their doctrinal principles, came over also from the course of this world, and have ever since lived in newness of life. Can this be said of the generality of Socinian congregations ? Those who have had the greatest opportunity of observing them, say the contrary. Yea, they add, that the conversion of sinners to a life of holiness does not appear to be their aim ; that their concern seems to be, to pursuade those, who in their account, have too much religion, that less will suffice, rather than to address themselves to the irreligious, to convince them of their defect. A great part of Dr. Priestley's Sermon on the death of Mr. Robinson is of this tendency. Instead of concurring with the mind of God, as expressed in his word, O that my people were wise, that they would consider their latter end ! the preacher goes about 80 dissuade his hearers from thinking too much upon that unwelcome subject.
You will judge, from these things, brethren, whether there be any cause for boasting on the part of the Socinians, in the number of “converts which they tell us are continually making to their principles ;"}| or for discouragement on the side of the Calvinists, as if what they account the cause of God and truth were going fast to decline.
I am, &c. * Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever Part I. Preface, p. vi..
+ Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 93.
ON THE STANDARD OF MORALITY.
You have observed, that Dr. Priestley charges the Calvinistic system with being unfriendly to morality, “as giving wrong impressions concerning the character and moral government of God, and as relaxing the obligations of virtue.” That you may judge of the propriety of this heavy charge, and whether our system, or his own, tends most to “ relax the obligation of virtue,” it seems proper to inquire, which of them affords the most licentious notions of virtue itself. To suppose that the scheme which pleads for relaxation, both in the precept and in the penalty of the great rule of divine government, should, after all, relax the least, is highly paradoxical. The system, be it which it may, that teaches us to lower the standard of obedience, or to make light of the nature of disobedience, must surely be the system which relaxes the obligations of virtue, and, consequently, is of an immoral tendency.
The eternal standard of right and wrong is the moral law, summed up in love to God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to our neighbour as ourselves. This law is holy, just, and good: holy, as requiring perfect conformity to God; just, as being founded in the strictest equity ; and good, as being equally adapted to promote the happiness of the creature as the glory of the Creator. Nor have we any notion of the precept of the law being abated, or a jot or title of it being given up, in order to suit the inclination of depraved creatures. We do not conceive the law to be more strict than it ought to be, even considering our present circumstances ; because we consider the evil propensity of the heart, which alone renders us incapable of perfect obedience, as no excuse. Neither do we plead for the relaxation of the penalty of the law upon the footing of equity; but insist, that, though