Слике страница
[ocr errors]

recourse to the last artifice of abortive zeal, the cry of interpolation."* But this is a thing not to be determined by Mr. White's ipse dixit. We say that the plain sense of scripture is clearly in our favour, and that the false glosses are what the Trinitarians are obliged to have recourse to.

We are confident that we have the Scriptures, as well as reason and history, in our favour. Our Saviour himself prayed to the Father, as“ the only true God," + (John xvii. 3,) and with as much fervour and humility as any of his disciples. And the apostle Paul, agreeably to the general tenor of Scripture, says (1 Tim. ii. 5,) “ there is one God," and expressly says, that that one God is “ the Father.”+ He immediately adds, " and one Mediator between God and men;" and he as expressly calls that Mediator“ the man Christ Jesus." We have recourse to no gloss whatever in the interpretation of this language. We do not see or suspect, that it requires any; and are surprised at the strange glosses that the Trinitarians put upon it.

“ The gradation,” Mr. White says, “ from Socinianism to Deism is very slight, and especially that species of Socinianism which has been patronized by a writer, who, in order to support it, has thought proper to abandon the inspiration of the Scriptures, and has made no scruple to call St. Paul an inconclusive reasoner,” (quoting a work of mine). “ On such a footing Socinianism may possibly maintain its ground. But on such a footing Deism may maintain its ground much better; and it is rather wonderful that those who have given up so much should retain any thing. For what is there in Christianity, when all its distinguishing doctrines are taken away that could render it a subject worthy of a particular revelation ?" || If this be the case, it may be expected that I shall soon become a Deist, though I imagine Mr. White will expect that I shall first become a Mahometan.

Mr. White is too apt to amuse himself with theory, without a sufficient regard to facts. There have been many Socinians before

Notes, p. Ixiii. When Mr. White wrote this he hardly recollected his high and just encomium on Dr. Clarke and Newton, neither of them Trinitarians, and the last thought by many to have been a Sociniun, and wlio, in two Letters to M. Le Clerc, has clearly shewn the certainty of the only considerable interpolations that Mr. White can allude to, viz. that of 1 Tim. iii. i7, “ God manifested in the flesh," and 1 John v. 7, of the “ three that bear record in heaven." (See Vol. XIV. pp. 132, 133, 438, 434.] “ Who," says Mr. White, (Sermons, p. 38,) “ are the champions of infidelity that deserve to be compared with a Taylor, a Wilkins, a Cudworth, a Barlow, a Clarke, a Boyle, and a Newton ?"

Had all such men as Locke, Clarke, and Newton, acted with perfect uprightness and true wisdom, as well as thought with freedom, (See Vol. IV.p.315,] the Church of England would not now have been Trinitarian; and yet declamatory preaching would

still have been on the side of the established faith in all its changes. What Mr. White says of the Church of England in its present state, is also said by the members of the Church of Rome, has ever been said by the members of all established churches, and will, no doubt, continue to be said through all their future variatious. “We who live in these enlightened times,” (Sermons, p. 472,)“ have no misconceptions of Christianity to set right, no corruptions of it to purify." This is more than I would choose to say of my own opinions. I may see reason to change them to-morrow, and then should be ashamed of the boast of to-day. If Mr. White be a young man, as by his style I suspect him to be, he may live to see a change in the creed of his all-perfect national church. (P.) + See Vol. XIII. pp. 332, 333.

1 I Cor. viii. 6. See Vol. XIV. p. 80. See ibid on

126 127

our age, though Mr. White may be ignorant of this. It is possible, however, that he may have heard or read that formerly Poland abounded with them. How many of these will he say became Deists? Socinianism is no new thing in this country. There were considerable numbers of Socinians in the time of Mr. Biddle, and Mr. Firmin, one of the first of men. They were persecuted, as were the Socinians in Poland; but did any of them take refuge in Deism? Socinianism is evidently gaining ground in this country at present. I do not believe that the church or the universities are free from it. How many of these Socinians have become Deists? I do not say there are no instances of it. But this I will engage for, that for one Socinian that Mr. White can shew to have become a Deist, I will produce a hundred, who, without having ever been Socinians, or perhaps without having heard of Socinianism, (which might have stopped their progress, have passed at once from the highest orthodoxy (even a higher species than Mr. White can boast of) to Deism or Atheism.

This is the common transition of the present age, and a very natural one too. For, when a man is required to believe what he finds it absolutely impossible for him to believe, as that bread is flesh, or that three are one, and is told that he must take or reject the whole system, he, of course, rejects the whole; having no other alternative. Such is the actual state and progress of things at present, that Mr. White may assure himself, there will soon be po medium between Socinianism and Atheism. He must himself take his choice of one of the two, or else continue to believe (if he can believe) without ideas, which are the necessary requisites of all belief. What I now say is reason supported by indisputable facts. Mr. White has only to open his eyes, and he must see them; whereas what he says is mere conjecture, equally contradicted by the most glaring facts, and the evident nature of things.*

* Mr. White's total inattention to facts is conspicuous in other parts of his work. The object of the most admired, I believe, of his discourses, is to shew that the forms of free government, and the progress that has been made in arts and sciences in Christendom, are owing to Christianity, and that the despotism and ignorance of the Mahometans are owing to their religious principles. But, in fact, he might with as much reason assert that the philosophical discoveries of Socinians are owing to their Socinianisin, that those made by foreign philosophers, (the greater part of whom are Atheists,) are owing to their Atheism, or that Tenterden steeple was the cause of Goodwini's sauds.

He does not consider that, though the first Caliphs were rude barbarians, and one of them ordered the famous library at Alexandria to be burnt, their successors were, for some centuries, the greatest patrons of literature and science in the world, and would have redeemed such a library at any price. He does not consider, or perhaps never heard, (for if he had it became him not to have concealed so important a circumstance, that they spared no expense to procure Greek books, and to get them translated into Arabic; and that one principal means of the Christian world energing from its barbarism, was their becoming the scholars of Mahometans.

If Unitarianism be so near a-kin to Mahometanism as Mr. White represents it to be, it might be expected to be equally unfavourable to the pursuits of literature and improvements in science. And if Trinitarianism be the essence and quintessence of Christianity, which is so highly and exclusively favourable to all intellectual exertion, it would hardly be doubted but that if there should be such prodigies as Unitarian poets, critics, historians, or philosophers) in looking over a list of those who have at all distinguished themselves by works of taste, or discoveries in science, the Trinitarians might be known by the superiority of their genius, and

What,” says this writer, " is there in Christianity, when all its distinguishing doctrines are taken away, that could render it a subject worthy of a particular revelation? Did the stupendous miracles that were wrought to introduce and establish it in the world, and the train of prophecies which were gradually disclosed to point out its high and illustrious origin, find an end suitable to their extraordinary nature?"*

As Mr. White shews so great a contempt for Socinian Christianity, I will tell him, or his readers, what it is that he makes so light of. It is nothing less than “ the belief of the resurrection of all the human race to an immortal life of happiness or misery, according to men's characters and conduct here," concerning which we believe that the light of nature gives us no information. Can Mr. White think of

the greater light they have thrown upon the knowledge of nature, having (as Mr. White might say) so much more perfect knowledge of the God of nature; and, without asking any questions, it might be taken for granted that the most eminent in every walk of literature were the divines of Rome and of Oxford. But if Mr. White will, cast his eye on a list of writers and inventors, he will find the facts as ill to correspoud to this theory as the others that I have mentioned in this note.

Unitarians and all sectaries are, to the disgrace of this country, excluded from the advantages of the universities. But God, our impartial father, has not withheld his common gifts. He has distributed his talents without distinction of Trinitarian or Unitarian, and has by one means or other put it in our power to make the improvement of them that he requires.

Mr. White's declaiming about the connexion between Christianity and free government, is equally unsupported by reason or facts. Did the Roman empire become free from the time of its being Christian, or was there ever any Christian government in Asia or Africa that was a free one? Are there not several of the Christian states in Europe in which the people have no share in the goverument, either in making laws or imposing taxes? Aud has it not been manifestly owing to other circumstances, and not to their Christianity, that any of them are free ? (P.)

This admired Discourse must have been Sermon ix., in 2 Parts, pp. 385_463, which formed the last Bampton Lecture. At the opening of the Discourse are the following eloquent passages :

“ The faith of Maliomet, wherever it is established, is united with despotic power. On the banks of the Ganges, and on the shores of the Caspian, under the influence of climates the most unlike, and manners the most opposite, it is still found accompanied with servitude and subjection: every free, aud every gallant people whom it has involved in the progress of its power, have abandoned their rights when they enlisted themselves under the banner of the prophet, and have forgotten in the title of the faithful, the pride of independence and the security of freedom.

“ The religion of Christ, on the contrary, is found to exist and to fourish under every variety of political power. In the different periods of its history it has been united with every form of government: and of the nations amoug whom it is now prosessed, the most general, and perhaps the most discriminating feature is that equal and courteous system of manners, which has operated in so striking a manner to limit the progress of tyranny; and which, even in the few countries where despotism is established, has served to soften the austerity of its administration." Sermons, pp. 386, 387.

It now appears highly probable that Dr. Priestley was here unconsciously contending with his invelerate antagonist, Mr. Badcock, under the name of White. Among the Facts extorted from Dr. Gabriel, by Dr. White's indiscreet friends, in 1789, is a letter from White to Badcock, dated Oxford, November 27, 1783, in which he says, “ Lecture the Villth I leave wholly to yourself.” According to the will of the founder, the Bampton Lecture was to consist of “ eight Divinity Lecture Sermons." In a note Dr. Gabriel says, “What is bere called the Villth Lecture, may be the IXth,” as “ Dr. White is well known to have preached an additional Lecture.” Facts, pp. 21-25. See supra, p. 276, Note t.

this but for a moment, and say that it is nothing ? Had he never heard of any other Christianity at all, he would, I doubt not, have been in raptures at the first suggestion of it. What are all other tenets relating to religion compared to this? It is evidently every thing that can greatly influence men's conduct. All the great difference in real value of the several modes of Christianity can only consist in the different degrees of firmness with which they enable the mind to hold this one only great practical doctrine. And whether is it easier to do this in conjunction with as few extraneous articles as possible, or in connexion with other doctrines, which, separately taken, must appear bighly improbable, and therefore must necessarily lessen the credibility of any system of which they make a part?

The great object and end of religion is to make men lead good lives, in which the belief of a future state of retribution has, no doubt, the greatest influence. Now what can the belief of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, or of the Trinity, add to this? Being, as it is allowed, hard to be understood, and of course to be believed, in themselves, they must necessarily operate as a dead weight upon every system into which they enter.

Yet Mr. White can say, “ Socinianism cuts to the very root of all that is distinguishing in the gospel," that gospel, the great object of which was to bring life and immortality to light. “It destroys," he says, “ the necessity, and even the importance, of a miraculous interposition, and gives the Infidel too great reason to exclaim, that all that was extraordinary was superfluous, and that the apparatus was too expensive and too splendid for the purposes to which it was applied."* As if any thing could be farther from the reach of human discovery than a future life, or more require a divine interposition to establish the belief of it by miracles. But let us hear what Mr. White has farther to say on the subject.

Morality and a future state,” he says, “ include the whole of Christianity, according to the representation of a Socinian.” It is acknowledged ; and what else is there of real value in any religion? “ But suppose a Deist should adopt, (as many have, and justly may,) the same morality, and the same sanctions on the ground of natural evidence, wherein lies the essential and discriminating characteristic of Christianity? Where lies the real difference between a believer in divine revelation and a religious Theist?”+

Here again Mr. White wanders from fact, and loses himself in vague theory. Where are those religious Theists that he speaks of? Where are the men who, without believing revelation, discover, or will profess that they have, a serious expectation of a future life? The probability is, that my acquaintance among unbelievers is as extensive as that of Mr. White, and I declare that I know no such persons.

Whatever may have been the case formerly, there must be very few such persons now. Nor can this be wondered at, when the doctrine of a soul is so evidently contrary to every principle by which philosophers are guided in their researches, and that of a resurrection is naturally so improbable.

[ocr errors]

votes, p. Ixviii. (P.)

+ Ibid. lxvii. Ixviii.



But should there be found a man who really believes in a future life of retribution, and governs his conduct by that faith, so as to be as perfect a character as a Christian, I scruple not to say that to him Christianity would be superfluous. What is all religion but a means to a certain end ; and if any man can, in fact, attain to this end, viz. to lead a godły, righteous, and sober life, without Christianity, (which has this very thing for its great object,) he is as good a man, and as valuable a character, as any other person who attains the same end by the help of it. Let Mr. White shew the difference, if he

But how does what Mr. White says here (of many Deists having, and justly too, the same morality, and the same sanctions on the ground of natural evidence, that Christians have) agree with what he says ?—" The gospel has brought life and immortality to light. It has dispersed all those shades which so bang over it, as to render it to the eye of unassisted reason a subject of doubtful speculation, rather than of cheerful hope. It has reduced to a certainty what nature, at the farthest stretch of its powers, could barely regard as a conjecture. The clear discovery of a future state, and the application of it as one of the great sanctions of religion, were reserved for the gospel. Hence we are taught to regard man in a higher and nobler light than nature, with all her boasted attributes, and most splendid accomplishments, can represent him. We are taught to consider him as the heir of immortality, as made for two worlds, and as qualified to act in both, with increasing capacities both of moral improvement, and of physical happiness.

According to one of these passages many Deists have, and justly may have, the same persuasion concerning a future state with the Christian; whereas according to the other he can only, with the farthest stretch of his powers, doubtfully speculate, and attain to nothing more than bare conjecture. Do we see here the consistency of truth, or the flourish of the orator adapting his embellishments to the subjects of which he treats?

Through an utter ignorance of facts, Mr. White says, “ There is no period of the Christian church in which the divinity of Christ was not admitted, as a primary article, nor can the enemies of this doctrine point out the time when, if it be a falsity, it was admitted as a truth; much less can they account for its admission into the several symbols of Christian faith, in the very first ages, if it was a doctrine unknown to Christ and his apostles. The Socinian hypothesis staggers all speculation. It is contrary to every maxim of historical evidence; and, if pursued to its obvious consequences, includes in it the overthrow of Christianity, and renders every record of every age suspicious and uncertain. It reverses the common rules by which we judge of past events, and, in the strictest sense of the expression, makes the first last, and the last first, makes the less superior to the greater, and what is doubtful and partial more decisive than what is full, clear, and certain. Examine Socinianism by any rule of history that has been adopted for the trial of any fact, or the determination that has been passed on any

Sermons, pp. 371, 372. (P.)

« ПретходнаНастави »