Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

whose arguments and manner of conducting the controversy, I might arail myself the most, I should certainly have made choice of your Lordship. After seeing your first set of letters to me, I said to several of my friends, that if I could have dictated the whole of your performance myself, it should have been just what I found it to be: Your arguments were so extremely futile, and your manner of urging them giving me even more advantage than I wanted or wished for.” If even the arguments of Dr. Horsley, the force of which has been felt and acknowledged so universally, have made no impression upon the mind of the Doctor, what can be expected from these publications ? Surely, should he condescend to honour them with his notice, (a favour, which, however, is not to be expected,) in one half hour he might demonstrate their futility: And were not the opponents of too lit: le note to afford the Doctor much houour in the conquest, we might again bear him proclaiming his victory in terms similar to those he uses when, (p. 4,) he assures his Lordship in great triumph, that “ he [the Bishop] has been com. pletely foiled in all his atteinpts to discover any error [in the Doctor's writings] of the least consequence to his main argument.” And many, no doubt, would take the Doctor's word for it, and save themselves the espence of purchasing, and trouble of reading a book, the authors of which had been so “completely foiled," in the whole of their argumentation! It will remain a truth, however, when Dr. Priestley and his publications are no more, that not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.'

As to the Scriptures, arguments drawn from that source can have but little weight with the Doctor. “You think it extraordinary (says he to the Rev. James Barnard, p. 83,) that I should have recourse to such guides as the Fathers, to settle my opinion concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, thinking, I suppose, that the study of the Scriptures might render all other helps annecessary. Now, I have more than once given my reason for this conduct. It is in short this : Christians

are not agreed in the interpretation of Scripture lan.. guage; hut as all men are agreed with respect to the nature of historical evidence, I thought that we might perhaps better determine by history, what was the Faith of Christians in early times, independently of any aid from the Scriptures : And it appeared to be no unnatural presumption, that whatever that should appear to be, such was the doctrine of the Apostles, from whom their Faith was derived ; and that by this means we should be possessed of a pretty good guide for discovering the true sense of scripture."

It appears, therefore, that in the Doctor's opinion, though the Apostles exhort us to strive together for the Faith of the Gospel,' and to contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the saints ;' and though they for wrote many epistles designedly to tell us what that Faith was; yet that these epistles are so unintelligible, that if we wish for information concerning this Faith, we must not have recourse to them, though written in a language perfectly understood, but to the histories and other writings of persons who lived some centuries after them! According to this hypothesis, if, some ages hence, any one should be wishful to know what the Faith of that great Philosopher and Divine, Dr.Priestley, was, he must not apply to the Doctor's own writings for information, though those writings should happen to be extant, and should be preserved entire, but must recur to histories of England, memoirs of the lives aud writings of eminevt men, and other books composed and published some ages after the Doctor's death, and by men, perhaps, either ill-informed on the one hand, or prejudiced on the other! According to the same plan, the Faith of the old Puritans might be learned from the books of the present Presbyterians, that is, the Socinians, their successors; and the faith of our Reformers, from the sermons and other publications of the present Clergy of the Church of England! Ou the same principle too, it may be learned from some future Socinian historian, how the Bishop of St. David's managed the controversy with Dr. Priestley, and how just

and scriptural his Lordship’s sentiments were on the important subject debated between them.

I would not be understood as insinuating here, either that the ancient Fathers of the church, or the members of it in general, in the first ages, departed from the Faith, held by the apostles and first Christians. I am persuaded they did not, and that their holding the doctrine contended for in these sheets, is capable of as clear and satisfactory proof, as any subject of history whatever. But be this as it may, it appears to me that any man's Faith is best learned from those discourses and writings of his own, in which he professedly declares that Faith ; unless, indeed, on the one hand there be reason to question his sincerity, or on the other to suppose him deficient in common sense, or at least in ability to make himself uuderstood. Accordingly, I think, without intending to detract at all from the character or writings of those holy and eminent men, the Ancient Fathers, that the Faith of the apostles is best learned from what they themselves have delivered concerning it. And Dr. Priestley may use what arguments he pleases, I am satisfied he never will he able to convince any of the contrary, but those whom he has first persuaded that these sacred penmen were deficient in integrity or in understanding, that they either would not or could not give a justand intelligible account of their sentiments.

The Doctor has already carried his researches very far, not only in Philosophy, but also in Divinity : He has greatly outstripped all his predecessors. In Philosophy he has discovered, to the utter confusion of the wisdom of former ages, that man has no soul, no rational and immortal spirit ; that he is a mere piece of organized matter, and that of consequence all his motions are purely mechanical ; all his tempers, words, and works, previously fixed, necessary, and unavoida ble; a doctrine this, published by him to the world some years ago, and still openly avowed, as appears by bis late letters to the Rev. John Hawkins, in which he declares hiniself to be “ professedly an Unitarian, a

Necessarian, and a Materialist.” In Divinity he has not only adopted and confirmed the discoveries (or tenets, as I should rather call them) of Socinus, respecting the mere humanity of Christ, with all the train of consequences which that doctrine draws after it; but he questions the authenticity of the accouut, given in the beginning of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, respecting the miraculous conception of the child Jesus. Of course he has inferred that Jesus Christ, sent iudeed of God, and a great Prophet, yet was weak, fallible, and peccable, like other men : That, as to the Evangelists and Apostles, whatever might be the case with them as Speakers, concerning which, I think, he has not pronounced/positively, yet that, as Writers, they certainly were not inspired : That as to St. Paul, in particular, he often reasons very inconclusively, and both misunderstands and misapplies sundry passages quoted from the Old Testament.

But, it will be impossible for the Doctor to stop here. He inust of necessity either advance further, or come quite back. As to Philosophy indeed, the philosophy, Imean, that concerns the nature of man, he seems to be arrived at the Ne plus Ultra. It being a plain, undeniable fact, that we do move, it would be in vain to endeavour to persuade us that we do not. All that can possibly be done in this case is, what he has effected long ago, that is, to prove, that we move mechanically. But in Divinity ;-unless, as I hinted, he should think proper to make a retreat, and return into the paths of orthodoxy, which, at his time of life, and after the attention and admiration he has excited for a number of years by the singularity of his discoveries, he is well aware he could not do with credit to himself ;—iu Divinity, I say, he must go much further. Added to what he has demonstrated respecting St. Paul's reasoning inconclusively, and all the Apostles and Evangelists writing without inspiration, he must make it evident that they all in general, and St. Paul iu particular, wrote without common sense. This, on the one hand, would be perfecting his work, and would for ever free him, and all other great and learned Philosophers and Divines, from what has long been found to be a prodigious clog upon the feet of those who are in haste to make discoveries, I mean that obsolete book the Bible. And, on the other, it will be found absolately necessary to gain credit to the discoveries already made, and especially to procure them a firm and lasting establishment. And then neither the Doctor, nor any of his brethren of the school of Socinus, need give themselves any further trouble, in fruitless endeavours to reconcile their sentiments with the antiquated doctrines taught by St. Paul, St. John, or any other of the New Testament writers, any more than they would to reconcile them with the reveries of a madman, or the dreams of an enthusiast.

As a specimen of what might be done in this way, and because it is reasonable to think that the Doctor has not time, in the midst of his many and severe studies, and voluminous publications, to search the Scriptares for the examples which seem necessary to be produced in proof of so important a point; I have taken the pains to look over the New Testament, and especially the Epistles of St. Paul, and have put down many instances of this kind. I will not say, they are all of them the most remarkable that could be found, but they are such as struck me most in the perusal, and I here take the liberty of presenting them to the public, long with these unfinished letters of the Rev. Mr. Fletcher. Whether I shall have the Doctor's thanks for is my forwardness to serve him, I know not; but I an in truth say, I mean his good, as well as the good i all into whose hands these sheets may fall; and what is wellmeant, he will allow, should be well taken. Fis wisdom and learning, I doubt not, will direct him

3 to the use to be made of these quotations from the sritings of the Evangelists and Apostles. They may koperly be considered, (like experiments in natural kilosophy,) as so many instances, demonstrating in 27, not only the truth and certainty of the late discopop, that the persons who could write in such a man.

« AnteriorContinuar »