« ПретходнаНастави »
opinion, and we can scarcely avoid seeing its utter inconsistency with the universal creed of the Christian church, from the earliest period of its existence to the present time."*
This is all mere unfounded assertion, and the reverse of the truth, in every point, as I have in a great measure shewn already, in several publications, and which I engage to shew, with abundantly more evidence, in a work which I have now in the press. I maintain, (and I do not, like Mr. White, expect that my bare word should be taken for it,) that the Christian church was for a considerable time universally Unitarian ; and I shall shew distinctly by what means, and about what time, the doctrine of the Trinity was introduced, what it was at first, and what it grew to be afterwards. This will clearly prove it to have been an innovation in Christianity, if ever there was one in any system. I shall produce all my authorities from original writers, and appeal to the most incontrovertible maxims of historical criticism † for every deduction from them. And I challenge Mr. White, or any future Bampton Lecturer, to disprove what I shall allege.
This is a business that is not to be decided by big, swelling words, but by an appeal to facts, and the rules of just reasoning from them. And now that the minds of men are awake, and attentive to this important discussion, it will behove Mr. White, and every other defender of modern orthodoxy, to be more guarded in what they throw out respecting it. They deceive themselves if they imagine that Socinians will be frightened by empty sounds. We boast of no superiority of understanding. Our simple scheme does not require it. But we think we have common sense, so that we can tell that two and two make four, and shall not easily be persuaded that they make five.
No man can appear to be more sensible of the importance of standing forth in the defence of the received faith, at the present critical juncture, than Mr. White himself. He boasts of champions ready to answer any proper call, and of the spirit with which they are prepared to act. “ İnfidelity,” he says, “ we know has its zealots, and heresies of the most malignant tendency have their advocates; advocates, I mean, who scorn accommodation with what they are pleased to call the inventions of priestcraft, and the prejudices of the vulgar; who make a triumphant boast of the freedom with which they oppose the peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of Christianity; who are neither ashamed nor afraid to declare openly to the world, that as they have hitherto exerted themselves, so will they continue to exert themselves, in demolishing the fortresses of orthodoxy." * Notes, pp. Ixiv. Ixv. (P.)
+ See supra, pp. 517-519. Sermons, pp. 13, 14. As it is possible that Mr.'White may allude to the subject of the following History, which was never published except in a newspaper, and I am informed that credit is still given to the idle tale, I have thought it might not be amiss to insert it here, exactly as it was printed twelve years ago.
The History of a Calumny.
From the St. James's Chronicle of Jan. 21, 1773. Having been much solicited to inquire into the foundation of a report, which was calculated to be very injurious to me, by representing me as a real enemy,
What Mr. White meant by heresies of the most malignant tendency, he does not say, but I suppose he meant those doctrines which are commonly called Socinian; and it is true that there are
at the same time that I pretended to be a zealous friend, of Christianity, I at length undertook to do it, partiy to amuse myself, and partly to oblige my friends ; being sensible, that if I had not already given the fullest satisfaction with respect to my being a sincere believer of Christianity, it could not be in my power to do it; and that even the professed defence of the evidences of Christianity, which I have just published, would not make any impression in my favour.
About the middle of the last summer I was informed, from very credible authority, that Mr. John Carr, architect, (and, I believe, then Mayor,) of York, declared in a private company, consisting of very respectable persons of the county of York, (and alleged it as an evidence of the Dissenters being, notwithstanding their professions, the secret and determined enemies of Christianity,) that he had seen a letter of Dr. Priestley's, written to a confidential friend, in which he had said, that “ he hoped he should live to see the time, when the imposture of Christianity would be banished out of the world, or words to that effect.” Some time after also a stranger wrote to me, informing me, that much credit was given to the story, and requesting an explanation of it.
Mr. Carr, to whom I wrote upon the subject, declares, in a letter dated Nov. 1, 1772, that the charge against him was false and exaggerated; but that, about a year before, he was on a visit at Mr. Osborne's, of Ravensfield, near Doncaster, when Mr. Samuel Walker, of Rotherham, said, that I had expressed myself, in a letter, (which he thinks Mr. Walker said he had seen,) that “I had no great belief iu Jesus Christ, or words to that effect;" and that Mr. Walker added other expressions from my letter, much to the same purport, which he remembered “ tended to lessen the veracity of our Saviour." For the truth of this account, he appeals to Mr. Osborne, in whose house the conversation passed.
On the other hand, Mr. Aaron Walker (whom, it seems, Mr. Carr had mistakeu for his brother Samuel) declares, in a letter to me, dated November 28, that all he said at Mr. Osborne's was, that he had been informed by my brother, (the Rev. Mr. Priestley, of Manchester,) at the house of his brother, Samuel Walker, and in the presence of his brother, Mr. Thorpe, and several others, that I had said “ that myself and some others would uot rest till we had rooted out of the church the idol Christ;" and that, being interrogated at Mr. Osborne's, whether I had written or spoken it, he said, “ he was not certain, but he believed I had done both."
This brings the story to the state in which I had heard of it very year two years before. For a correspondent of mine, in the West of England, theu informed me, that it was currently reported in his neighbourhood, and all over that part of the country, that I had boasted, in the presence of the Rev. Mr. Hitchin, of London, (minister of the Independent congregation, White Row,] that “ I would not rest till I had pulled down that idol, Jesus Christ.” This is also referred to, as a threatening of what I would do (though my name is not mentioned) in an anony, mous pamphlet, published this last summer; and a gentleinan of distinguished worth some time after informed a friend of mine, that it was said to have been one of the curious things which the bishop of Laudaff had quoted, in order to render myself, and the Dissenters in general, obnoxious to the Goverunient, in the House of Lords. [1772. See Ann. Reg. XV. pp. 96-101 ]
Being in London in the spring of this year, I asked Mr. Hitchin, whether he had ever heard me make any such speech as that above-mentioned. He said he had not, but that he had heard it of my brother, in his house. Afterwards, meeting with Mr. Hitchin and my brother together in Yorkshire, and desiring an explanation of this business, my brother acknowledged that he had said “he believed I would endeavour all I could to extirpate the doctrine of the divinity of Christ," but that he had no authority for this, except my writings.
Thus this report, which, I am joformed, has been eagerly propagated in many parts of England, comes to nothing more than this, that some of the more sagacious readers of my theological writings have been able to collect from them, that, with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, my sentiments are not Athanasian.
It may amuse some speculative persons, who attend to the influence of prenow many advocates of those doctrines, who have all that confi. dence in the truth of their own principles that he ascribes to them; who consider the doctrine of the Trinity, in particular, as the greatest and most dangerous corruption of Christianity, and who will spare no endeavours to root it out. They have drawn the sword, and have thrown away the scabbard.
Mr. White adds, “ In repressing the violence, and in exposing the absurdities of such writers, we act a part which prejudiced men may, perhaps, impute to unworthy motives. But why, then, are we blamed for doing to others what others, if they supposed us to lie under any dangerous delusion, would make a merit of doing
Is that officious in the children of wisdom, which in their adversaries is benevolent? Is their firmness our obstinacy? Their cause surely has no presumptive proof of superiority. Their abilities are not of a greater size. Their activity is not directed to nobler ends.
“ They laugh, indeed, at our blindness, and they rail at our ardour; but to hear the rude clamours of those who assault Christianity, or of those who betray it, without emotion, and without resistance, would imply a tameness of spirit, which our enemies would be the first to insult and to ridicule. By silent forbearance, or languid opposition, we should indeed give too much colour to an insinuation, lately thrown out by one who has rushed foremost in the ranks, and sounded with a louder blast than his fellows the horn of battle, that we are at ease in Zion, only because we are grown indifferent to her better interests.” *
Who Mr. White means by the “one who has lately rushed foremost in the ranks,” &c., he does not say, but probably he means myself; and it is true that I wish not to come bebind any one for zeal in the cause in which we are jointly engaged. This is no subject of boasting. I have reconnoitred the force of the enemy, and see nothing that can daunt the most timid. I have met some of their advanced guard, but I want to see their Goliah. Mr. White assumes the boasting language, but I suspect he wants the strength and the armour. The real Golial in this business is, in the opinion of many, the Act of William and Mary. Mr. White disclaims the aid of this champion, and of any civil authority, in these matters, * for which magnanimity he is to be commended, but he should have considered whether he had any other support more effectual than this tried one.
judice, to observe how much this report has gained in passing through a very few hands, viz. from my brother to Mr. Hitchin, or Mr. Walker, and from Mr. Walker to Mr. Carr.
The greatest difference is between Mr. Carr and Mr. Walker, the former representing me as an enemy to Christianity itself, and one who would rejoice in the extirpation of it; and the other as an enemy to what I consider as a great corruption of Christianity, and therefore as one who would rejoice in the purification and extension of it. I know nothing of either of these gentlemen, but from common report, which speaks of Mr. Walker as a zealous Calvinist, and of Mr. Carr as a zealous Churchman; which of them may be presumed, from these circumstances, to be more disposed to calumniate me, and therefore which of them is more probably the guilty person, I leave others to determine. There is also a considerable difference between the account of my brother and that of Mr. Walker, or Mr. Hitchin ; but since the original author of this report disavows it, I do not think it any business of mine to reconcile these inconsistencies. Let them do it, if they choose, among themselves.
I wish this affair may be a lesson to them and others, not to be so ready to propagate reports to the prejudice of persons who are odious to them on account of their religious principles; lest, instead of gaining their end, in discrediting others, they should discover the malignity of their own tempers, by shewing a propensity to slander their neighbours, and thereby bring disgrace upon themselves, with all men of sense and integrity. Leeds, December 19.
JOSEPH PRIESTLEY. N. B. A copy of this paper has been sent to all the persons whose names are mentioned in it. (P.)
Sermons, pp. 14, 15.
“ Wisdom," Mr. White likewise says, “ reserves its vigour for exertions worthy of its own noble aims; and if it be zealously affected, it is in a good thing. Actuated by such motives, and placed in such circumstances, it not only defies all
the arts of calumny, but challenges some tribute of praise. The everlasting truths of the gospel with which the welfare of mankind is most nearly connected, demand our serious regards, and justify the warmest efforts of zeal, at once directed by knowledge, and tempered by philanthropy." +
What may be inferred from all this, but that Mr. White feels himself sufficiently prepared and animated to enter the lists with any Socinian, in defence of the doctrines of his church, especially that of the divinity of Christ; and that he has no objection to meet him whom he describes as having “rushed foremost in the ranks, and sounded with a louder blast than his fellows the horn of battle”? If I be the person intended by this description, (of which Mr. White is the best judge,) I must consider what he has said as a challenge to myself in particular; and I can assure him that I am far from feeling a wish to decline it. Hitherto we have had nothing but words and bold assertions from Mr. White. I own that I have a great curiosity to see his arguments ; and therefore I profess myself ready to meet him in the open field of reason, of scripture, or of history. Nay, 1, in my turn, call upon him, as a man who would be thought to be a lover of truth, to justify the assertions which I have quoted above, and which I maintain to be absolutely void of truth.
I call upon him in particular, to point out “ the gradation" that he speaks of " from Socinianism to Deism," I and to shew how the former “ cuts to the very root of all that is distinguishing in the gospel.
I call upon him to shew that the divinity of Christ was ever acknowledged by the apostles, or any Christians in the age immediately following them.
And, lastly, I call upon him to shew that the doctrine of the Trinity, as defined in the creeds of the Church of England, can possibly be true; so that any man who attends to the meaning of the words in which it is expressed, can believe it if he would.
* “ Let not the freedom of inquiry," he says, (Sermons, p. 21,) “ be shackled." “ They (the children of wisdom)" he says, (p. 23,) “ are convinced that the weapons of the Christian warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; and that our religion, though protected by human power against violence and outrage, for the sake of preserving its members in peace, yet is to make its way in the world only by the force of evidence, and to keep its ground as well by the moderatiou, as by the abilities of its advocates." (P.) + Sermons, pp. 12, 13. (P.)
I Notes, p. Ixvii.
I can assure Mr. White, that no man shall ever call upon me in this manner, without hearing from me on the subject, either to acknowledge my error, or to defend what may still appear to me to be the truth; and I think it evidently becomes every writer who would not mislead the public, to hold the same conduct. I have told Dr. Horsley, that “ if he be an honest man, and of an ingenuous mind, he must, in some mode or other, either refute the charge," (of gross ignorance and misrepresentation that I have advanced against him,) " or acknowledge the justness of it." He continues (1785) speechless. But the public can be at no loss what construction to put upon his silence.
Mr. White has voluntarily drawn the eyes of the public upon him, by sounding what he calls the horn of battle, and making himself responsible for the appearance of numerous sons of wisdom and of zeal, on the present occasion, which he represents as extremely critical. Let him, then, stand forth himself, or if he distrust his own single arm, let him produce the many champions of whom he makes so great a boast.
On Mr. Howes's “ Discourse on the Abuse of the Talent of Disputa
tion in Religion, particularly as practised by Dr. Priestley, Mr. Gibbon, and others of the modern Sect of Philosophic Christians.”*
(See supra, p. 490.) After writing the preceding animadversions on Mr. White's performance, I thought it might be expected that, as I have engaged to be as explicit as possible with respect to the subject of the controversy relating to the doctrine of the primitive church, I should take some notice of Mr. Howes's Discourse, especially as, like Dr. Horsley's Charge, it was published at the request of a body
clergy who heard it, and the writer, in his Critical Obsercat on Books, has shewn himself to be a man of learning. I must acknowledge, however, that, had I read nothing of Mr. Howes's besides this discourse, I should not have formed a very high opinion of his acquaintance with Christian antiquity.
The ground that Mr. Howes has undertaken to defend is a very extraordinary one indeed. He asserts, that not “ any one Christian sect whatever, of the first ages, ever held any such opinion as the mere humanity of Christ;"† and that “all the sects differed from the orthodox, chiefly with respect to the time when the union of divinity and humanity took place, not with respect to the fact
* “ Preached in the cathedral church, Norwich, at the primary visitation of the bishop, June 23, 1784, by Thomas Howes.
+ Discourse, p. 13. (P.).