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similar cases? Have I been particularly attached to hypotheses in philosophy, even to my own, which always create a stronger attachment than those of other persons ? On the contrary, I will venture to say that no person is generally thought to be less so; nor has it been imagined that my pursuits have been at all defeated or injured by any prepossession in favour of particular theories ; and yet theories are as apt to mislead in philosophical as in any other subjects. I have always shewn the greatest readiness to abandon any hypothesis that I have advanced, and even defended while I thought it defensible, the moment I have suspected it to be ill founded, whether the new facts that have refuted it were discovered by myself or others. My friends in general have blamed me for my extreme facility in this respect; and if I may judge of myself by my own feelings, after the closest examination that I can give myself, I am just the same with respect to theology.
In the course of my life I have held and defended opinions very different from those which I hold at present. Now, if my obstinacy in retaining and defending opinions had been so great as my opponents represent it, why did it not long ago put a stop to all my changes, and fix me a Trinitarian or an Arian? Let those who have given stronger proofs of their minds being open to conviction than mine has been, throw the first stone at me.
I am well aware of the nature and force of that opposition and obloquy to which I am exposing myself in consequence of writing my History of the Corruptions of Christianity, the most valuable, I trust, of all my publications ; and especially in consequence of the pains that have been taken to magnify and expose a few inaccuracies, to which all works of a similar nature have been and ever must be subject. But I have the fullest persuasion that the real oversights in it are of the smallest magnitude, and do not at all affect any one position or argument in my work, as I hope to satisfy all candid judges; and as to mere cavil and reproach, I thank God, I am well able to bear it.
The odium I brought upon myself by maintaining the doctrines of Materialism and Necessity, without attempt. ing to cover or soften terms of so frightful a sound, and without palliating any of their consequences, was unspeakably greater than what this business can bring upon me. At the beginning of that controversy I had few, very few indeed, of my nearest friends, who were with me in the argument. They, however, who knew me, knew my motives, and excused me; but the Christian world in general regarded me with the greatest abhorrence. I was considered as an unprincipled infidel, either an Atheist or in league with Atheists.* In this light I was repeatedly exhibited in all the public papers; and the Monthly Review, and other Reviews, with all the similar publications of the day, joined in the popular cry. But a few years have seen the end of it. At least all that is left would not disturb the merest novice in these things. The consequence (which I now enjoy) is a great increase of Materialists; not of atheistical ones, as some will still represent it, but of the most serious, the most rational and consistent Christians.
A similar issue I firmly expect from the present controversy, unpromising as it may appear in the eyes of some, who are struck with what is speciously and confidently urged. For my own part, I truly rejoice in the present appearance of things; as I foresee that much good will arise from the attention that will by this means be drawn upon the subject; and as I hope I respect the hand of God in every thing, I thank him for leading me into this business ; as I hope to have occasion to thank him, some years hence, for leading me through it, and with as much advantage as I have been led through the other.
It is, indeed, my firm, and it is my joyful persuasion, that there is a wise Providence overruling all inquiries, as well as other events. The wisdom of God has appeared, as I have endeavoured to point out, even in the corruptions of Christianity and the spread of error; and it is equally conspicuous in the discovery and propagation of truth.
I am far from thinking that the great Being who superintends all things, guides my pen any more than he does that of my fiercest opponent; but I believe that by means of our joint labours, and those of all who engage in theological controversy, (which is eminently useful in rousing men to the utmost exertion of their faculties,) he is promoting his own excellent purposes, and providing for the prevalence of truth, in his own due time; and in this general prospect we ought all equally to rejoice.
It becomes us, however, to consider, that they only will be entitled to praise, who join in carrying on the designs of Providence with right views of their own; who are actuated by a real love of truth, and also by that candour and bene
See Vol. III. p. 203. In 1779, was published “ The Sadducee : a poem, occa. vivirců by Dr. Priestley's Essay on Matter." See Mor. Rev. LX. p. 335.
volence, which a sense of our common difficulties in the investigation of truth most effectually inspires. A man who has never changed an opinion cannot have much feeling of this difficulty, and therefore cannot be expected to have much candour, unless his disposition be uncommonly excellent. I ought to have more candour than many others, because I have felt more than many can pretend to have done, the force of those obstacles which retard our progress in the search of truth.
With much tranquillity, a tranquillity acquired by habit, but more approaching to a pleasing alacrity, than to any uneasy apprehension, I shall wait the issue of the present controversy ; freely retracting whatever I shall be found to have advanced with too little consideration; moderating any thing on which I shall appear to have laid too much stress, and urging with the greatest freedom every new argument or illustration that may occur to me, till I shall have nothing of consequence to allege. After this I shall no longer reply to particular opponents, but content myself with making such corrections and improvements either in my History, or my intended View of the Doctrine of the first Ages of the Christian Church, concerning the Person of Christ, as I may see necessary; subinitting every thing to the judgment of those who may think proper to give any attention to the subject.
I cannot conclude this Preface without cautioning our readers not to imagine that this is a mere trial of skill between me and my opponents. It is the opening of a serious and important controversy, tending to decide whether the Christian Church in the age of the apostles was Unitarian or Trinitarian; which, independently of any arguments from particular texts of scripture, will assist us to determine whether the doctrine of the Trinity, which has had so long possession of the minds of the Christian world, be a real doctrine of Christianity, or one of its oldest and worst corruptions.
I wish to draw out the ablest men, both on the Trinitarian and the Arian side of the question ; and I hope that I shall not long be the principal on the proper Unitarian side. My Vindicator* is much better qualified to take this place, and leave me that of auxiliary.
I would further observe, that in a controversy so various and extensive as this will probably be, it should not be
• The author of “ Remarks in Vindication of Dr, Priestley." See supra, p. 17; Note ..
imagined that the question is absolutely decided when any particular advantage is gained on either side. All men are liable to oversights; but a judicious reader will consider the extent and consequences of an oversight, and particularly whether it affects the question itself, or the writer only.
Especially, let not persons who are not themselves much conversant in ecclesiastical history, conclude that when any writer has gained a seeming advantage, it is therefore a real and final one; but let them wait till his opponent has been heard. On the first appearance of Dr. Horsley's Charge, many persons considered it as decisive against me. Others may now think as favourably of my side of the argument. But let all persons suspend their judgment till they see that we have nothing of consequence to allege further, and let a reasonable time be given to each of us.'
To the Letters to Dr. Horsley I have subjoined a Postscript of supplemental and miscellaneous matters; and especially a Summary View * of all the evidence that I have hitherto been able to collect, and Maxims of Historical Criticism t with which the several articles may be compared. I wish that my opponents would take the same or any similar method, in order to bring the controversy to a more easy, speedy, and satisfactory termination.
I have likewise added some notice of the writer in the Monthly Review for September last, which contains a large answer to my reply to his former animadversions. It was certainly improper for a person who assumes the character of a judge to become a party in the dispute. With the intentions that he avows, of drawing me into a controversy, he ought to have left his former province of reviewer to another; and not to have availed himself of the prodigious advantage of the cheap and immense circulation which the Review gave him. As Dr. Horsley considers this writer as “ learned in ecclesiastical history,”|| and may wish to have him for an ally, let him not, like Commodus, throw bis darts from a stage; but, if he have any confidence in his own prowess, (of which he seems to have no distrust,) let him, masked or unmasked, descend into the arena along with us.
• Appendix, No. I.
| Ibid. No. II. I See infra at the close of these Letters.
§ Dr. Priestley had experienced similar treatment, in 1777, from Dr. Kenrick, Editor of the London Review. See Vol. IV. p. 138, Note. Mr. Badcock was then Dr. Priestley's Vindicator. See ibid. p. iv.
|| Charge, p. 77. (P.) Tracts, p. 76.
AN INTRODUCTORY LETTER. Dear Sir, As it is my earnest wish that every subject of importance may be fully investigated, I am happy to find that you have done me the honour to animadvert on my History of the Corruptions of Christianity, in your late Charge to the Clergy at St. Albans, as you formerly did on my Treatise on Philosophical Necessity, in a Sermon.* I was in hopes that my reply to the latter would have led you to pursue the argument with me to its proper termination. But though I failed in my attempts to engage your assistance in that inquiry, I flatter myself that I shall be more successful in this; especially as, by the temper and style of your performance, you seem to interest yourself more deeply in this subject, imagining, no doubt, and very justly, that much more depends upon it.
You have given, however, a degree of importance to my work which, I own, I had not thought of myself, when you say to your reverend brethren, “ You will easily conjecture that what has led me into these reflections, is the extraordinary attempt which hath lately been made to unsettle the faith, and to break up the constitution, of every ecclesiastical establishment in Christendom. Such is the avowed object of a recent publication, which bears the title of A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, among which the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, in the author's opinion, holds a principal place.”+ Now I see nothing so very extraordinary in my attempt.
. I have only done what has been done by every other person who has endeavoured to refute the doctrine of the Trinity, or any other essential article of established churches. However, as you seem to have taken so particular an alarm in this case, I am willing to hope you will exert yourself with proportionable vigour; when, in your apprehension, it is no less than to save a falling state. Before I enter upon the subject itself, I must endeavour to set you right with respect to two preliminary circumstances.
Whether it be to my credit or not, I must observe that you make my reading to be more extensive than it is, when
• See Vol. IV. p. 150, Note.