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family, and when it may be too late to look out for any other source of subsistence. Many worthy persons, I do assure you, are at this very time in this most painful situation, wishing it was with them as it is now with you, who clearly see what duty requires, and acutely feel how nature, and all its ties, oppose it......
Some years ago, a clergyman, then turned sixty, with a wife and a numerous family, told me his distressing case, with tears literally running down his cheeks. It was not for me to advise what I might not have been capable of doing in the same circumstances. He, bimself :knew but too well what strict duty required, I could only mix my tears with his. For such men as these; whose complaints are only uttered in private, our present governors and their own ecclesiastical superiors, seem to have no feeling. But there is a great Being, higher than the highest, who knows, and who will one day visit for these things.
Strongly as you may feel your own difficulties, you cannot but be sensible how much they are exceeded by those of the case which I have now; mentioned. Besides, if virtuous resolution is to be expected of man, it is to be expected of youth. That is the period of life the most distinguished for a generous ardour in the pursuit of truth, for an ingenuous disposition, unperverted by a commerce with the world, and a vigour of mind equal to any trial. .. Act, then, a part becoming enlightened, virtuous, and generous. British youth. Confer together, and associate in your common cause.
A petition for a removal of subscription to any human articles of faith, and for a reformation of the public liturgy, or for leave to alter it with the consent of your parishioners, would, I am confident, have more weight from you than from any other description of men in the kingdom.
Tell our governors that you are ready to render your country the best services in your power in promoting the knowledge and practice of Christianity, but that there are obstructions in your way, which prevent your engaging in this great work, and which would defeat your purpose if you did; that you cannot, with a good grace, or with effect, inculcate the principles of honesty and integrity on others, after, by a public and solemn act, violating them yourselves; that it will be your happiness, and your glory, to teach Christianity, but not the manifest abuses and corruptions of it, doctrines which militate with the fundamental principles of it; that you cannot, at the same time, preach the religion of Christ, and worship another Being than him whom Christ
worshipped, and whom he taught all his disciples to worship, as the only true God.
Tell them that, after an alteration in the forms of public worship, you can with infinitely more advantage teach those principles which are truly great, and essential to Christianity, and on which alone its efficacy to purify the heart, and to reform the life, can depend; and that, provided this great end be gained, the object of all good and wise government will be answered; for that the welfare of society, which is the sole object of civil government, cannot possibly have any necessary connexion with the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity. Tell them that it is sufficient if, believing nothing but what they can understand, men be good citizens, and that this will be best effected by inculcating the great doctrine of a life of retribution after death, a state in which men will receive according to their works, not according to their opinions.
If you cannot engage a sufficient number to make a respectable application to your superiors, in church or state, still do what integrity requires of you as individuals. It is what many, to their infinite honour, have done before you. A considerable number of the most intelligent and best disposed young men have declined entering into the ministry, when they seriously reflected on the terms on which they must have done it; men, whose ability and integrity would have qualified them to be the greatest ornaments of their profession, if the entrance into it had not been too narrow to admit them.
I cannot help flattering myself, however, that an earnest representation from even a few of you, of your peculiarly difficult situation, would not be without its effect; and then your country would be indebted to you for its emancipation from a bondage which, in consequence of the progress of religious knowledge, must be every day more severely felt, a bondage which cannot affect any but the intelligent and the ingenuous ; those who wish well to the cause of virtue, but who cannot promote it except in the way of truth.
In all events, however, you will have done your duty; and greater guilt will remain on those who refuse so reasonable a request.
Where religion is concerned, do not deceive yourselves by waiting till some great man, in the church or the state take the lead. Neither was Christianity propagated, nor the reformation begun, by this means. Individuals of all ranks thought and acted for themselves, and those who had influence in public measures favoured them when it appeared to be their interest so to do. And, in the nature of things, nothing else could be expected. Persons in years, or who have establishments for life, have generally hit upon some method or other to make themselves easy ; and wishing to continue so, they are offended at any thing that is likely to create disturbance. Thus disposed, they will never be at a loss for some plausible pretext for putting off, at least, every proposal of reformation. There are, however, such liberal characters on the episcopal bench, at this time, that I almost persuade myself, they would countenance and assist such an application as I
propose. As to ministers of state, they must, and ought, to follow the lead of the people. Make it appear to them that the country in general wishes for a reformation, or that many earnestly desire it, and that the rest would not violently oppose it, and depend upon it, they will not.
It is our business, therefore, without troubling ourselves about the conduct of others, to look to our own, to get all the light we can ourselves, and to do every thing in our power to enlighten the minds of others ; confident that the general prevalence of truth will, in due time, draw after it every thing that we can desire, with respect to public reformation, and public liberty.
With respect to the common people of this country, it would be doing them great injustice to consider them as Trinitarians. More than nine in ten, I am pretty confident, would be better pleased with an Unitarian than a Trinitarian liturgy, though they do not interest themselves so much in the affair, as to take any steps towards promoting it.
There can even be no doubt but that the thinking part of the clergy really wish for some alteration in the articles, and the form of public worship, and that they would prefer one in which all religious worship should be confined to one God, the Father, could they be sure that every thing else relating to the establishment might remain unaltered. Of the learned clergy, it is almost certain that those who approve of the sentiments of Dr. Clarke, are more in number than the rigid Trinitarians, who would be clamorous against any change. Were the younger clergy, therefore, and candidates for the ministry, in earnest, for a reformation, it could not, in all probability, be kept back much longer.
I am, &c.
Animadversions on Dr. Purkis's Sermon,
GENTLEMEN, The preceding Letters were written in consequence of reading the Dean of Canterbury's truly candid Sermons, and I was led to think of addressing myself to you, as well as to him on the occasion, on account of his being president of a college in Oxford. Since the writing of them, I have seen another Sermon, * preached by Dr. Purkis, one of the preachers of the King's Chapel, at Whitehall, “ before the University of Cambridge, on Commencement Sunday, July 2, 1786,” which, if the writer may be credited, † was received with as much applause as those of the Dean of Canterbury, who is of Oxford.
Though I think such mere declamation utterly unworthy of an university that has a Newton to boast of, and do not see that it contains any thiøg particularly deserving of a reply, I shall take occasion from it to shew the extreme weakness of some things on which great stress is laid with respect to the discussion that is now before the public, and others of a similar nature. One would think, indeed, that such things could only be said ad captandum vulgus, and could never have been addressed to those who are brought up in a freedom from vulgar prejudices, which ought to be one great object in a course of liberal education.
• “On the lufluence of the present Pursuits in Learning as they affect Religiou." See Mon. Rev. LXXVIII. pp. 542–544.
+ The doubt here intimated was occasioned by the following anonymous letter, which shews that one of our Universities, at least, is not destitute of liberality :
“ I lose no time in transmitting to you a discourse which did much violence to my feelings at the time I heard it delivered, from the University pulpit. So far is the author's boast in the advertisement from being true, that I believe his sermon gave serious concern to several very respectable, learned, and liberal men among his audience, which, it being Commencement Sunday, was a very numerous one, as well as to myself. It was preached as an exercise for his doctor's degree. The publisher informs me, that the greatest part of the impression has been sent by the author as presents to bisliops and great men. I trust you will not be wanting to check the poison of its influence, to speak like the author, for which I blusli, as I should at any thing that savoured of an unchristian spirit. An answer from your masterly pen, I have reason to believe, will give great satisfaction to many conscientious lovers of truth in this University, but I assure you, to none more than to your hearty well-wisher in the gospel cause, who professes ex animo to be a sincere inquirer into the truth as it is in Jesus.
Cambridge, Nov. 27, 1786." (P.)
1. Of the Influence of Philosophy on Religion. Dr. Purkis preaches from Col. ii. 8: “ Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of this world, and not after Christ.” By this he, no doubt, meant to insinuate that myself, and other Unitarians, who have some pretensions to philosophy, are just such philosophers as the apostle Paul had to do with, their principles being the same, having the same connexion with religion, the same influence upon it, and tending alike to fill the mind with pride and selfconceit. Hence the phrases, “ a minute mind busied with remarking only the track of its own experiments,”* “a vain presuming person,” it “ dogmatical arrogance.”+ Indeed, without this construction, Dr. Purkis's text and discourse could not be thought to be peculiarly “ seasonable at this time," as the advertisement prefixed to it expresses.
Now really, Gentlemen, there is no foundation whatever for any of these insinuations or reflections. The philosophy which the apostle alluded to was, undoubtedly, that of the Gnostics, the principles of which you will see detailed in my
History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ,” and which you may find in any book of ecclesiastical history. Please, then, to examine them, and see whether you can find in them any resemblance to the modern experimentul philosophy, with which (notwithstanding its supposed evil tendency) you are, I doubt not, well acquainted. The Gnostics made no experiments at all. Their notions were all metaphysical, mythological, or theological, and therefore, naturally interfered with and contaminated the Christian principles ; whereas, experimental philosophy is wholly unconnected with them, any farther than as all truth has a connexion.
Accordingly we see that there have been experimental philosophers, as well as mathematicians, of every opinion with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. If, therefore, this kind of science tends to make men proud, there must be proud and conceited Trinitarians, as well as Unitarians, and there are who think that my antagonist, Dr. Horsley, might be quoted as a proof of this. But, in fact, experimental philosophy tends to make us humble; as it shews, in the strongest light, the immensity of nature, the unsearchable wisdom of the Author of nature, and the narrowness