« AnteriorContinuar »
misstatement in the letter, as that my going to Scotland in 1799 was to “ witness the state of that country," and to 6 concert measures for doing good;" that I did not "condescend” to halt, and preach between York and Newcastle ; and that “it cannot be said that one convert has been made ” in foreign missions. Such assertions must have arisen from the want of information. My journey was merely owing to a kind invitafion given me to go and receive the donations of a number of my fellow-Christians, who were willing to contribute to the giving of the holy scriptures to a great nation which had them not, as all the country between York and Newcastle has. My excursion was not a preaching one, though I did preach, and that to the utmost extent of my power. If I had taken half a year, I might have stopped much oftener than I did: but then it is possible my own congregation would have reminded me that " charity begins at home.” Whether success has, or has not attended foreign missions, the accounts which have been printed of them, so far as human judgment can go in such matters, will enable us to decide.
The only question that requires attention is, Whether the spirit which, within the last ten years has prompted Christians of different denominations to engage in foreign missions, has been favourable or unfavourable to the propagation of the gospel at home? --It is a fact which cannot be disputed, that within the above period, there have been far greater exertions to communicate the principles of religion to the heathenized parts of both England and Scotland, than any former period within the remembrance, at least, of the present generalion. If I were to say they have been five times greater than before, I think I should not exceed the truth. Nor has that part of the kingdom, to which the writer of the letter alludes, been overlooked. And how is this fact to be accounted for? Will this friend to village-preaching unite with Bishop Horsley, and say, it is the effect of political motives ; and merely a new direction of the democratic current, which was interrupted by the treason and sedition bills in 1795 ? If so, we might ask, How came it to come mence two years before those bills were passed? How is it, that it should have prevailed, not so much among those dissenters who took an eager share in political contention, as those who
had scarcely ever concerned themselves in any thing of the kind ? And, finally, How is it, that it should have extended to other pations, as well as Britain, and other quarters of the world as well as Europe? But I suppose the writer of this letter would not attribute it to this cause. How then will he account for it? The truth most manifestly is, that the very practice of which he complains has been more conducive to that which he recommends, than all other causes put together. It is natural that it should be so. A longing desire after the spread of the gospel, when once kindled, extends in all directions. The same principle which induces some to leave their native land to impart the heavenly ligbt, induces others to contribute and pray for their succcess : and while they are doing this, it is next to impossible to forget their own countrymen, who, though they have access to the written word, yet live without God in the world.
It is very singular that the example of “Paulinus,” (I suppose he meant Austin the monk,) who came to Britain as a missionary from Rome, about the year 596, and is said to have baptized ten thousand people in the river Swale,* should be alleged against foreign missions. Allowing Austin's converts to have been real Christians, (wbich, however, is very dou vtful,) according to the “ Observer," there was much blame attached to his labours of love, since the probability of greater success was in favour of Italy; a country far less distant than Britain, and more deserving of his charity, which should have begun at home.'
Unfortunately for this proverb, I do not recollect ever hearing it alleged but for a selfish purpose. Go and ask relief for some distressed object, of a wealthy man. His answer is, “Charity begins at home.” True, and it seems to end there. And by the reasoning of this observer, his would do the same. So long as there are any sinners in Britain, we must confine our attention to them. A person of a contracted mind once objected to the exportation of our manufactures. “We have many poor people in England, (said he,) who are half naked, and would be glad of them; and charity begins at home.” He was informed, however, by a
* Fox's Acks and Monuments. Vol. I. p. 132. 9th edition Vol. VIII.
merehant, that to send our commodities abroad is not the way to impoverish, but to enrich ourselves, and even to furnish the poor with clothing, by providing them with plenty of good employment.
THOUGHTS ON THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.
No sober Trinitarian would take upon him to say precisely to what degree the distinctions in the Godhead extend. It is generally supposed, however, that the term person approaches the nearest to the scriptural idea, of any term that could be applied to this subject : yet those who use and contend for this term, in opposition to that of three names or three properties, do not mean to suggest, that the distinctions in the deity are in all respects the same as between three persons among men. The latter have no necessary connexion or union with each other, so as to denominate them one. It is highly probable, that there is nothing in creation perfectly analogous to the mode of the divine subsistence ; and therefore nothing by which it can be fully conceived. And what if this should be the case? Where is the wonder that there should be something in God peculiar to himself in the mode of his existence, which we cannot comprehend ! If Socinians would but modestly consider the weakness of the human understanding, they would not decide so peremptorily on the other band concerning the unity of God, as that it must needs be personal, or not at all. If it be too much for us to say with exactness to what degree the
distinction reaches; is it not also too much for them to decide upon the precise kind and degree of union wbich is necessary to denominate the great Creator of the world—the ONE GOD.
The doctrine of a Trinity in Unity, is evidently a doctrine of pure revelation, and could never have been discovered by the mere light of nature. But by comparing scripture with itself, we may plainly perceive, that the divine unity, is not a unity of person. Though there are three in the Godhead who are dignia fied with the same incommunicable titles of Jehovah, God, and Lord ; possessing the same attributes and perfections ; and entitled to the same worship and adoration ; yet the scriptures do not exhibit a plurality of deities, but teach us that Jehovah our God, is one Jehovah. The obvious conclusion is, that these tbree are one God, and that the scripture doctrine of unity, is of more persons than one in the Godhead. The following passages, among many others, are very full to this purpose :
Go teach all nations ; baptizing them in the paine of the Father, of the Son, aud of the Holy Spirit. There are three that beat record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. I am one, that bear witness of myself. The Father that sent me beareth witness of me. It is the Spirit tbat beareth witness. And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily sbape like a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven which said, thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you, from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.—Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.Through him (that is, Christ) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.-Praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unte eternal life.-—Tho Lord direct your hearts into the love of God. and the patient waiting for Christ.--The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirite be with you all.
On reading these and similar passages, together with a great oum. ber of others which teach the proper deity of Christ; we conclude that in a mysterious way, far above our comprehension, there are jo the divine unity, three subsistences : and as the New Testament constantly represents each of these three, as bearing personal names, sustaining personal offices, and performing personal acts, we think ourselves warranted in accounting them three divine persons.
Socinians, however, object to the doctrine of the Trinity on account of its being incomprehensible: and Dr. Priestley denies that the first teachers of Christianity taught any “mysterious doctrines, or doctrines in their own nature incomprehensible; "* and insists upon the necessity of “considering in what manner three persons are one God, upon the general principle that every proposition, before it can be believed, must be understood in some sense or other.” |
The first preachers of Christianity taught the self-existence of God. (Rev. i. 4.) Grace be unto you, and peace from him, who ts, and who was, and who is TO COME. But the self-existence of God is allowed by Dr. Priestley bimself, to be so much of a mystery, that "he does not understand the manner of it.” He can here distinguish between things which are above reason, and things contrary to it. “ Though it be above our reason, (he says,) to comprehend how tbis original Being, and the cause of all other beings, should be himself uncaused, it is a conclusion by no means properly contrary to reason. Now, why might not an atheist demand of Dr. Priestley, an account of the mode or manger how God bimself can exist, upon the general principle, " that every proposition, before it can be believed, must be understood in some sense or other ?” Why should not this general principle apply to the manner in which God always existed, as an upcaused being, as well as to the manner in which three persons are one God? And if it be proper to distinguish between things above reason and things contrary to it, in the one case, why not in the other?
* Letters to a Philosoph cal Unbeliever. Part II. p. 209.
Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever. Part I. p. 46.