Imágenes de páginas

add, ".

In connection with metaphysics, it was natural enough to introduce the name of that enlightened philosopher, that most able and strenuous advocate of rational Christianity, Dr. Priestley, of whom my friend coldly remarks, in a note, p. 60, that “ he was a firm believer in Christianity, and wrote many tracts to prove its divine origin.” I am sorry that he has thought fit to

yet it may be questioned whether his writings have not made as many unbelievers as converts." By whom may it be questioned ? Not, I am sure, by any one who has the sinallest pretension to candour or to information, It can only be questioned by the grossest ignorance, or the most contemptible bigotry. If ever ihere was a person raised up by divine Provi, dence to counteract, with energy anıl with effect, the rapid and alarming progress of infidelity, in an age of political and theos logical revolutions, Dr. Priestley was the man: he was the enlightened advocate who, by exhibiting the Christian religion in its genuine simplicity, divested of those adventitious absurdities by whicis it was incumbered, and with which it was confounded, baffled the objections of unbelievers, and disa armed scepticism of her principal weapon; and who, by stating the evidences, both of natural and revealed religion, with a simplicity, perspicuity, and precision before unequalled, has established the faith of the unprejudiced inquirer upon an iminoveable foundation. That a few, who attended carelessly upon his instructions, or who hastily glanced over his masterly reasonings, may, by some obliquity of intellect, or inveteracy of prejudice, have failed to have been convinced by his arguments, is not impossible. But as to his general success, it has greatly surpassed his own most sanguine expectatiuns. I have indeed no hesitation in stating it as my firm persuasion, that in consequence of his personal exertions, and his admirable writings, in connection with those of his able and learned associate in the same cause, the vencrable Theo-, philus Lindsey, whom I am proud to call my revered friend, the numbers of converts to a pure and rational Christianity have been multiplied a hundred fold, and are daily increasing amongst all ranks of society. And of these I have no doubt, that wbatever Pharisaic ignorance and arrogance may insiDuate to the contrary, there are at least as great a proportion, whose temper and character are truly exemplary and ornamental to their profession, as are to be found in any other · denomination of Christians, how pompous and how self-complacent soever.

That my turn of rebuke should succeed to Dr Priestley's

did not surprise me. My worthy friend, in his usual style of in nuendo, innsinuates (ibid.) that, " after having filled up a situation with some credit and usefulness at Daventry,” I came to do mischief and promote infidelity, by taking the divinity chair at Hackney. Against such a charge I condescend not to make a defence. There is one Being for whose approbation I am solicitous, and to whose tribunal i appeal. It is comparatively a light thing "to be judged by man's judgment." Yet even in this respect, the acceptance with which my humble and imperfect, but sincere attempts, to impart Christian instruction have been honoured, has far exceeded all that I ever ventured to contemplate, even in idea, and such as, when I reflect upon it, I can hardly believe; and this is an abundant counterbalance to that asperity of censure in which some have indulged, from whose knowledge of circumstances and professions of regard, a different conduct might have been expected.

My worthy friend remarks, " It is unpleasing to reflect how many well disposed youths, who came there, i.e. to Hackney, to be educated for the Christian ministry, have not only given up that profession, but Christianity itself." This fáci, to a certain extent, cannot be denied; and, most surely, it excited unpleasing sensations in many, and not least, in the minds of those whose endeavours to form them to usefulness in the church were thus painfully disappointed. But it might have qualified my friend's unpleasant feelings, if it had occurred to him, to reflect how many able, faithful and learned ministers, whose talents and exertions are successfully devoted to the improvement of mankind in knowledge and virtue, and who now occupy some of the most conspicuous stations in the dissenting churches, received their education in that useful but short-lived institution. It is an easy thing for tutors to educate their pupils in the trammels of any religious faith which they may chuse. Take away the key of knowledge and the business is done. You bring them out at once Calvinists, Arians, Papists, Protestants, any thing that you please ; and ready to join in any cry to run down a sect which, for the season, may be obnoxious to the ruling party. This was not the method pursued by the tutors at Hackney: they gloried in encouraging freedom of inquiry ; nor were they at all apprehensive that the interest of truth and virtue would suffer by it in the end.

But my friend thinks that the zeal of the instructors in making proselytes to certain doctrines, which he does not ap

prove, was the leading cause of the infidelity of the pupils. How far these gentlemen might, in any degree, or upon any occasion, be chargeable with an indiscreet zeal, it is not for me to say.

But I can assure my worthy friend, that theit zeal, even in its greatest fervour, never carried them so far as to assert, that if their opponents' system should prove true, “ men not only deceive themselves, but are deceived by their Maker.”

My friend having thus discharged his battery against metaphysics in general, proceeds to attack two of its supposed strong-holds, materialism and necessity. The former of these hypotheses it is plain that he does not understand, for he reasons as though the philosophical materialist maintained that the soul of man was a solid and incrt substance, a representation, than which, nothing can be more erroneous. Dr Price, who did understand the subject, acknowledges that there is but little difference between De Priestley's materialism ? and his own spiritualism, and confesses that his acute opponent had almost persuaded him to give up the existence of inert matter, and to admit the homogeneity of man*.

My worthy, but too dogmatical friend, founders nearly as much in his observations upon philosophical necessity as in those upon philosophical materialism, and seevis to have formed a very indistinct idea of the doctrine which he denounces with such great solemnity. The necessarian contends that no one can perforin a voluntary action without a motive, that is, without a reason or an inclination to determine his choice and that it is not in his power to chuse differently while the same reason or inclination continues, or, as we commonly say, without altering his mind. This is the doctrine of necessity, and whether it be true or false, every one may judge by making the experiment in himself. This is a principle so obvious that few would hesitate to assent to it, when proposed in its simple and naked form. But if the principle be true, all the consequences legitimately drawn froin it must be equally true, whether they are perceived and admitted or not. This is the systein which ny friend represents as fraught with mischief, -- which miilitates against those ideas of holiness and sin which our Creator has taught us ;” and which, it it be true, we are deceived by our Maker himself. Philosophical liberty is the reverse of this. It

See the Correspondence of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley, p. 56, 57, 83.

[blocks in formation]

teaches that man may chuse differently, the previous circumstances remaining the same; that, having made one choice, he may, without altering his mind, without any variation, either of reason or inclination, chuse the contrary. This, to be sure, has very much the appearance of a contradiction ; yet this doctrine, my worthy friend imagines himself inspired to believe. , () ! but, says he, p. 67, the “ soul can always separate and compare its ideas; it can suspend its choice, and examine different motives; it is in this activity that its liberty depends." Undoubtedly, the soul can suspend and examine if it will, if it sees reason, so feels inclination for this suspension ; but without this motive it cannot deliberate, nor, if deliberating, can it cease to deliberate while the same reason or inclination to deliberate remains. In fact, nothing can be more egregiously trifling than an attempt to distinguish between voluntary actions, as if some were governed by motives and others not. All voluntary acts, whether mental or corporeal, internal or external, are subject to the same law.

My friend, p. 68, expresses great astonishment “ at having once heard a metaphysician say, that while many things were uncertain, there was one subject upon which he could entertain no doubt, and that was, the necessity of human actions.” This daring assertion threw him, it seems, into a profound soliloquy, and brought to his mind the following sublime passage of that eminent poet Richard Baxter :

Never more bold than when most blind ;

Runs fastest when the truth's behind. What, then, would have been my worthy friend's astonishment, if this same “ bold” and “ blind” 'metaphysician had advanced so far as to affirm, that if his system were not true,

we deceived ourselves, and were deceived by our Maker.” I cannot help figuring to myself the burst of generous and indignant eloquence with which my friend would have exposed and reprobated the folly, the arrogance, and the impiety of the assertion. I doubt whether honest Baxter's poetry would in this case have been adequate to the energy of his feelings. Nor should I have been surprised, if his own muse, upon an occasion so animating, had been inspired to express the warmth of his resentment in sublimer strains of satire and invective, “ Si natura negat; facit indignatio versum.

On every scheme vice is reprobated, and adequate punishment follows unrepented guilt; on the necessarian hypothesis justly, and in a way perfectly consistent with wisdom and benevolence; on the libertarian scheme, in a way that is, in iny judgment, inconsistent with both. Upon this subject my sentiments are stated in my treatise of the Elements of the Philosophy of the Mind, and it is set in the clearest light in Dr. Priestley's Illustrations of Philosophical Necessity. arguments there adduced are not invalidated by any thing which my friend has alleged. Those erroneous and popular feelings, upon which he lays so much stress as divine suggestions, are of no more value as objections to the doctrine of necessity, than the obvious phænomena of nature are 10 the true theory of the universe. It is the province of ptuilosophy to correct the errors arising from superficial appearances.

Upon one topic my friend assumes a character of uncommon diffidence. The necessarians strongly contend for the absolute inconsistency of the foreknowledge of God with the philosophical liberty of man.

But “ I argue,” says my friend, p. 66, “that both the premises and conclusion of this proposition lie beyond the reach of our faculties." What the premises and the conclusion of a proposition are, it is difficult to say; but I believe my friend means to affirm, that it is beyond the reach of human faculties to ascertain whether foreknowledge is reconcileable to philosophical liberty; and I must admit, that it would be much in favour of his cause if he could prevail upon his readers to take his word for it. For the truth is, that no question admits of greater precision, or of a clearer determination. The Supreme Being, though infinite in knowledge, cannot know a thing to be what it is not ; for that would involve a contradiction. But a contingent action is necessarily uncertain, for it may or may not be ; and all the actions of agents, philosophically free, are contingent ; for, by the definition of liberty, the volition is uncertain till it actually takes place; therefore it cannot be foreknown as certain, for it would then be known to be what it is not. It is therefore a contradiction, that contingent actions should be foreknown. But God foreknows all actions, and all events depending upon them; therefore no events are contingent; therefore men are not philosophically free.

The conclusion is as clear as light. No proposition in · Euclid admits of a more satisfactory demonstration. To an

inquisitive and intelligent person there is, and can be no other alternative. Either God does not foresee future events, or

« AnteriorContinuar »