« AnteriorContinuar »
As a substitute for regeneration they declare mankind to become better in a gradual manner, by their own will or efforts, and the efforts or will of their fellow-men, to such a degree, that God will accept them. In this manner they make the immense splendour of apparatus for our redemption and sanctification, and all the magnificient exhibitions of Christ and the Holy Spirit, terminate in this; that Christ came to declare divine truth to mankind, and to prove it to be divine truth; and that men, assenting to it with the understanding, change themselves by the ordinary efforts of a sinful mind, into such a character as is denoted in the Scriptures by being born again, and created anew. Such, it would seem, was not however the opinion of St. Paul, when he said, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit; for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them; for they are spiritually discerned.'
The present occasion will not permit me particularly to follow this subject any farther. It will be sufficient to mention, summarily, several other doctrines which have been denied by Dr. Priestley and his followers.
Our Saviour says, ' A spirit hath not flesh and boues, as ye see me have.' Dr. Priestley, on the contrary, informs us, that the human spirit is constituted only of organized matter ; that is, of flesh and bones. St. Paul tells us, that when he is · absent from the body,' he shall be present with the Lord.' Dr. Priestley holds, that Paul was nothing but body; and therefore could not be absent from the body, unless the body could be absent from itself. When the body dies, the soul, according to Dr. Priestley, terminates both its operations and its being, until the resurrection, then to be created again; and therefore is not, and cannot be, present with the Lord until after that period. The Scriptures assert the existence of angels.of various orders, both good and evil; and delineate their characters, stations, actions, and enjoyments. Dr. Priestley utterly denies, and even ridicules, the doctrine, that evil angels exist; and labours very hard to disprove the existence of good angels. I do not remember that he expressly denies it, and am not in possession of the volume in which his opinions on this subject are expressed, but he says all that is short of such an explicit devial, and plainly indicates that he does not believe them to exist.
Beyond all this, he denies the plenary inspiration of the apostles; and declares, that we are to acknowledge them inspired only when they say they are inspired ; and this, he
says, we are to do because the apostles were honest men, and are to be believed in this, and all their other declarations. Dr. Priestley says expressly, that he does not consider the books of Scripture as inspired, but as anthentic records of the dispensations of God to mankind, with every particular of which we cannot be too well acquainted. The writers of the books of Scripture he says, were men, and therefore fallible. But all, that we have to do with them is in the character of historians, and witnesses of what they heard and saw: like all other historians, they were liable to mistakes. “ Neither 1,” says he to Dr. Price, “ nor, I presume, yourself, believe implicitly every thing which is advanced by any writer in the Old or New Testament. I believe them," that is, the writers, “ to have been men, and therefore fallible.” And again : “ That the books of Scripture were written by particular divine inspiration, is a thing to which the writers themselves make no pretensions. It is a notion destitute of all proof, and that has done great injury to the evidence of Christianity.” The reasoniugs of the divine writers, he declares, we are fully at liberty to judge of, as we are those of other men. Accordingly, he asserts St. Paul in a particular instance to have reasoned fallaciously; and maintains, that Christ was both fallible and peccable. Other English Socinians unite with Dr. Priestley in these sentiments; while Socinians of other nations proceed so far as to treat the writers themselves, and their books, with marked contempt. In these several things there is plainly an utter denial that the Scriptures are a revelation from God. To all these opinions Dr. Priestley was once directly opposed, for he was once a Trinitarian and a Calvinist. The inference seems, therefore, to be necessary, that he was led to them all by his denial of the Deity of Christ. A similar transformation appears to have been undergone by many other Socinians, and something very like it by no small number of Arians. The observation of Mr. Wilberforce, therefore, seems to be but too well founded, when he says ; “ In the course which we lately traced from vominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity, Unitarianism is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned ; a stage on the journey,
where sometimes a person, indeed, finally stops ; but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while, and then pursues his progress.”
IV. The last objection which I shall make at the present time against the doctrine of the Unitarians, is its immoral influence. Mr. Belsham says,
• Rational Christians are often represented as indifferent to practical religion.” Dr. Priestley says, “A great number of the Unitarians of the present age are only men of good sense, and without much practical religion; and there is a greater apparent conformity to the world in them than is observable in others." He also says, that he hopes they have more of a real principle of Religion than they seem to have. He farther allows, that Unitarians are peculiarly wanting in zeal for religion.
At the same time, Dr. Priestley acknowledges that Calvinists have less apparent conformity to the world; and that they seem to have more of a real principle of religion than Socinians. He also acknowledges, that those who, from a principle of religion, ascribe more to God and less to man than other persons, are men of the greatest elevation of piety. Mr. Wilberforce declares it to be an unquestionable fact, that Unitarians are not, in general, distinguished for superior purity of life ; and that Unitarianism seems to be resorted to by those who seek a refuge from the strictness of the practical precepts contained in the Bible.
That these representations are just, I consider as completely proved by the Rev. A. Fuller in his Letters; and no less completely the immoral tendency of the Socinian system.
It is also a well known truth, that Unitarian churches are in general moderatoly frequented on the sabbath, that the sermons of their preachers are generally cold, especially on the peculiar duties of religion, that they have never formed nor united with others in forming missions for the propagation of the Gospel among the heathens and Mohammedans, nor distinguished themselves by any discernable earnestness in the cause of practical Christianity. On the contrary, their own declarations, too numerous to be here recited, teach us abundantly that, in the view of a great part of them, almost all the
seriousness, fervour and self-denial, that deep sense of sin, and that prayerful, watchful, and strenuous opposition to temptation, which their opponents esteem indispensable to salvation, are mere enthusiasm, superstition, or melancholy. Christianity with them seems to be an easy, pleasant kind of religion, unincumbered by any peculiar restraints, admitting without difficulty of what are usually called the pleasures and amusements of the world, and only confining them within the bounds of delicacy and politeness. Can this, let me ask, be taking up the cross, denying ourselves, and following after Christ?
DIVINITY OF CHRIST.
OBJECTIONS TO THE MODE IN WHICH THE UNITA
RIANS CONDUCT THE CONTROVERSY.
In my last Discourse I proposed several objections against the doctrine of the Unitarians. I shall now allege some objections against their conduct in the management of the controversy.
Before I proceed to the execution of this design, I shall premise the following general doctrines concerning the Scriptures:
That the Old and New Testaments were revealed to the several writers of them by the Spirit of God.
That, although the several writers were left to use their own characteristical style, or manner of writing, yet they have always written such words as the Holy Ghost taught,' and * not such as are taught by the wisdom of man.'
That these Scriptures contain • all things pertaining to life and to godliness.'
That they were written for the use of mankind, the learned and unlearned alike; and therefore were written in the usual language of men, with the usual signification of that language, as being that only which such men can understand.
That, therefore they express true ideas of God, of Christ,