Page images

dissipation,” yet that is not the case with all : there are some who are exemplary in their lives, men of eminent piety and virtue, and

rational system of faith.Does the Reviewer mean, then, to acknowledge, that the rational system does not include that kind of truth which prompts virtuous conduct? There is no truth in his expressions, but upon this supposition.

But this writer not only informs us what Mr. B. did not mean, but what he did mean. (One would think the Reviewer of Dr. Williams must have been very intimate with Mr. B.) Mr. Belsham meant, it seems, “ that the absurdities of a popular superstition are more apt to strike the miuds of those who are even indifferent to religion, than of those who are bigoted in their attachment to particular creeds and rites; and therefore, that the former will be more inclined to allow reason to mould their faith, than the latter."- Review of Dr. Williams' Answer to Mr. Belsham, for Jan. 1792, p. 117.

To be sure, if a Reviewer may be allowed to add a few sach words as more, and than, and even, to Mr. B.'s language, he may smooth its rough edges, and render it less exceptionable ; but is it true that this was Mr. B.'s meaning, or that such a meaning would ever have been invented, but to serve a turn ?

If there be any way of coming at an author's meaning, it is by his words, and by the scope of his reasoning; but neither the one nor the other will war. rant this construction. Mr. B.'s words are these : 6. The men who are the most indifferent to the practice of religion, will ever be the first to embrace a rational system of faith.” If he intended merely to assert, that immoral characters will embrace the truth before bigots, his words are abundantly too strong for his meaning: for, though the latter were allowed to be the last in embracing truth, it will not follow, that the former will be the first. If the ratiopal system were on the side of truth, surely it might be expected, that the serious and the upright would be the first to embrace it. But this is not pretended. Serious Christians, by the acknowledgment of Mrs. Barbauld, are the last that come fully into it.

The scope of Mr. Belsham's reasoning is equally unfavourable to such a construction as his words are. There is nothing, in the objection which he encoun. lors, that admits of such an answer. It was not alleged. That there was a greater proportion of immoral characters, than of bigots, among the Unitarians ; had this been the charge, the answer put into Mr. B.'s lips, might have been in point. But the charge, as he himself expresses it, was simply this~" Rational Christians are often represented as indifferent to practical religion.” To suppose that Mr. B. would account for this by alleging, that immoral characters are more likely to embrace the truth than bigots, (unelss he denominate all bigots who are not Unitariaos,) is supposing him to have left the objection unanswered. How is it, that there should be so great a proportion of immoral characters, rather than of humble, serious, and godly men, or of what Mr. Bel

who are distinguished by Dr. Priestley by the name of "serious Christians."* To this it is replied

First, Whatever piety or virtue there may be among Socinian converts, it may be doubted, whether piety or virtue led them to embrace that scheme, or were much in exercise in their researches after it. It has been observed, by some who have been most conversant with them, that, as they have discovered a predilection for those views of things, it has been very common for them to discover at the same time a light-minded temper, speaking of sacred things, and disputing about them, with the most unbecoming levity, and indecent freedom : avoiding all conversation on ex. perimental and devotional subjects, and directing their whole discourse to matters of mere speculation. Indeed, piety and virtue are, in effect, acknowledged to be unfavourable to the embracing of the Socinian scheme : for, if “ an indifference to religion in general be favourable to the distinguishing between truth and falsehood ;" and if “ those men who are the most indifferent to the practice of religion will ever be the first to embrace the rational system,” it must follow, by the rule of contraries, that piety, virtue, and zeal for religion, are things unfavorable to that system, and that pious and virtuous persons will ever be the last to em. brace it : nay, some may

think it


doubtful whether they ever embrace it at all: Serious Christians, according to the account of Mrs. Barbauld, are the most difficult sort of people that Socinian writers and preachers have to deal with ; for though they are sometimes brought to renounce the Calvinistic doctrines in theory, yet there is a sort of leaning towards them in their hearts, which their teachers know not how to eradicate. " These doc

sham calls “practical believers ?” This was the spirit of the objection : and if the above construction of Mr. B.'s words be admitted, it remains unanswered.

Let Dr. Priestley, or Mr. Belsham, or any of their advocates, who have charged the above quotations with misrepresentation, come forward, and, if they be able, make gond the charge. Till this is done, I shall consider them as fair and just, and as including concessions which, though possibly made in an unguarded moment, contain a truth which must prove a millstone about the neck of the Socinian system.

* Dis

yes on Various Subjects, p. 98.

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 virtue. As to the simple humanity of Christ; which is one of the distinguishing principles of Socinianism, Dr. Priestly acknowledges, that “the connexion between this simple truth and a regular Christian life is very slight.”| That,” 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 facte 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."Now, these are things in wbich 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 wbich 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.

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 change 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 sọ 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.



Christian Brethren,

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 ajot 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,

Neither do we plead for the relaxation of the penalty of the law upon the footing of equity ; but insist, that, though VOL II.


as no excuse.

« PreviousContinue »