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2. You say
and prevailed."* His opinion, therefore, was not, by your own confession, either that of the generality of the people, or that of the governing powers. You therefore must think that, a very small minority may be in the right, and finally prevail against numbers and power combined. In the time of Constantius, you must acknowledge that Arianism, or Unitarianism, was the general opinion.f And by what means was it that Athanasianism became prevalent? Can you reflect upon the history of those times, and think that it would ever have become so, if it had not been for the support it afterwards had from the governing powers? It has the same support at this day. But even this will not be able to preserve it much longer. You see how it loses ground in America, since it has lost the countenance of government there. I
“I do not see my Saviour only in ' a few detached passages' of either Testament. I see him conducting the economy of the divine dispensations, through both, from the creation to the consummation of all things, as the mai the nu' 78 3p, and ó Roy To Op. Dr. Allix and Mr. Taylor have both demonstrated this point. It is only to be wished the latter had drawn the conclusion drawn by the former, the just and proper conclusion, that the person spoken of must indeed be very God.”
Upon this subject, Sir, I would earnestly recommend to you, what I dare say, you have never yet perused, viz. the account which the learned Basnage (in his truly excellent History of the Jews) has given of their sentiments with respect to the Messiah, and Mr. Lindsey's reply to Mr. Taylor, in the Sequel to his Apology.** This, I think, it is barely possible to read, without being convinced that there is no weight whatever in any thing that is alleged by Mr. Taylor. You consider it as the clearest of all truths, that Christ was the person by whom God spake to Moses and the prophets. But indeed, Sir, this notion is directly contrary to what is asserted in the first and second verses of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which we read, “ God who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son."* What can be more evident from this, than that God spake to mankind by his Son only in the last days, or the times of the gospel, and not in any former period of time? Yet you say, that Socinians put forced and unnatural constructions on the language of Scripture !
• Sermons, p. 14. (P.) Works, VI. p. 72.
See Mr. Belsham's Mem. of Lindsey, 1812, pp. 238-280.
Author of " The Apology of Benjamin Ben Mordecai to his Friends, for embracing Christianity; in several Letters to Elisha Levi, merchant of Amsterdam,” 1773. Henry Taylor, Rector of Cranley, and Vicar of Portsmouth, died in 1785
** See Sequel, 1776, pp. 298–384.
I heartily join with you, Sir, in your exhortation to excite the zeal of the learned members of your church, in the defence of its peculiar doctrines, and also to interest the common people in this controversy. With respect to every argument of importance, these are as capable of judging as we can pretend to be. Let the twenty thousand copies of the pamphlet recommended by you,t be immediately printed and dispersed. I fear not the consequence. It was, I find, one of the many pieces that were written to counteract the effect of one of my own, entitled, “ An Appeal to the serious Professors of Christianity,”# many of which have been dispersed, and with a success far exceeding my expectations from it. A like advantage to what I think to be the cause of truth, has resulted from the publication of another small piece, entitled, “ A general View of the Arguments for the Unity of God, and against the Divinity or Preexistence of Christ, from Reason, from the Scriptures, and from History.”S
My principal expectations, however, are from the ingenuous youth, whose prejudices are not so rivetted as those of persons more advanced in life ; and for this reason I shall take the liberty to address a few letters to those young men in the two Universities, who are intended for the service of the church. They will, of course, read your publications, and I hope they will do me, or rather themselves, and the cause of truth, the justice to read both sides.
You are pleased to say of my conduct, in one respect, " It is fair, it is manly, it is noble, it is kind."|| Be assured, Sir, you shall never find it otherwise. And be this controversy of longer or shorter continuance, I shall be mindful of the advice you give to your friends, “ that it be conducted
See Vol. XIV. p. 347. t Sermons, p. 20. (P.) “ An excellent little tract," says Dr. Horne, " was printed in 1774. I wish 20,000 of them were dispersed through the kingdom at this time. It was entitled, a Preservative against the Publications dispersed by modern Socinians; in which the Impiety and Absurdity of their Principles are clearly shewn; addressed by a Country Clergyman to his Parishiopers.'" Works, VI. p.78, Note. See infra, “ Letters to Young Men," ad fin.
See Vol. II. pp. 383–404. § See Appendix, No. VII. 11 Sermons, p. 12. (P.) Works, VI. p. 70.
in an honourable way, according to the laws of war."* In this respect, I have uniformly observed one rule, which you, Sir, as well as most of my antagonists, have neglected ; which is to send a copy of my tracts to every person who is particularly noticed in them. This has always appeared to me to be fair and proper ; and I wish that, for the future, it may be considered as indispensable in these literary contests.
Having nothing farther, of much consequence, to address to yourself in particular, I conclude with once more assuring you, that I think myself singularly happy in having found so learned and candid an antagonist, and waiting your own time (reminding you however, of my own motto Ars longa, Vita brevis) for the appearance of your large work,t I subscribe myself, with the greatest respect.
J. PRIESTLEY. Birmingham, March 1, 1787.
LETTER I. Of Subscription to Articles of Faith. GENTLEMEN, Excuse the address of a stranger, whose apology for it is, an earnest desire of contributing what may be in his power to your forming a right judgment concerning some subjects,
Sermons, p. 9. (P.) Works, p. 67. + This projected Work never appeared. See supra, p. 325, Note.
which it imports you to understand, and of giving you such representations of things as you are not so likely to receive from any other quarter. In many things, no doubt, your professors and tutors, are much better qualified to give you instruction, than I can pretend to be ; and with respect to these, I am very willing to submit to their superiority, and to yours. But with respect to some other things, you may easily imagine, that they may not have been in the way of having their own attention called to them so much as mine has been ; and therefore, with the best intentions in the world, in the discharge of their duty to you, they will naturally be less explicit in their instructions. It is in no other case that I would presume to solicit your attention. To your own good sense and candour, I therefore entirely refer myself
. If by reading this address you should see any thing in a new and juster light than you have hitherto done, my end will be answered ; and if not, it will not be much of your time that will be lost upon it. My own time I cannot better employ, than in making the attempt.
As those who are designed to teach the principles of the Christian religion to the rest of the community, I consider you as destined to fill a station of the greatest honour and importance in your country ; and I wish you to be truly sensible of the honour and importance of it; not to make you proud of the rank it will give you, but to inspire you with an earnest desire, and a laudable ambition, to discharge the duties of it in the best manner. For in this case only, does any man either receive honour from his station, or do honour to it.
In order to teach religion with advantage to others, you will agree with me that it ought to be well understood by yourselves ; and we cannot expect to understand any thing of this consequence, without giving proper time to the study of it. Articles of faith are things of moment, and therefore we should not form a hasty judgment concerning them, but deliberately weigh before we decide. And in this respect it is that I must take the liberty to request you seriously to consider the propriety of your present customs, as you are required to subscribe to what it cannot be supposed you bave had sufficient time to study, and therefore cannot be supposed to understand.
Such a custom suited perfectly well with the times of darkness and bigotry, in which it was established. The great object then, was the public profession of the same faith, which it was thought could not be secured too early ; and the extinction of all schism, which it was thought could not be too carefully guarded against ; and not solid instruction, and a well-grounded knowledge of what was professed. This could not have been gained without previous inquiry and discussion, in which there would have been some bazard of persons forming different judgments; and then the favourite article of the Unity of the Catholic Church would have been in danger of being broken.
But, happily, we now see things in a very different light. We refuse to receive the principles of philosophy, and certainly should not receive those of religion, without being satisfied, from proper evidence, with respect to their truth. Whatever use there may be in union, there cannot be any in ignorance, or in an agreement in words without an agreement in ideas. And it is in vain for persons to pretend to an agreement in judgment, when none of them have formed any proper judgment in the case, having made no previous inquiry, on which alone such a judgment can be formed. Two blind men may agree in their evidence with respect to the colour of an object, but would any jury be influenced by such evidence? And no better than this is the agreement of men in articles of faith, concerning the truth of which they have made no inquiry.
Persons can, then, only be properly said to think alike, when they see things in the same light, and when the same arguments have the same weight with them. But in order to this, there must be a previous clear perception of the subject concerning which a judgment is to be formed, and an equally clear perception of the nature and force of the evidence on which it is formed. Also the more important any subject is, the greater care should we take to form a right judgment concerning it. Since, therefore, religion is of all subjects the most important, it behoves us to take the
greatest care, and consequently to employ the most time, in investigating the principles of it.
By no means, then, ever declare your assent to any articles of faith (and the most solemn of all declarations is the mode of subscription) before you have carefully considered what each of those articles is, and have really satisfied yourselves that you see the evidence on which the truth of them is founded. If the subscription be tendered to you before that process has commenced, or before it can have been completed, resolutely decline it. It becomes every honest man so to do: because otherwise he signs he knows not what; though he virtually says that he has considered