Imágenes de páginas

form belief of the remotest, and the purest ages. For my own part I have access to no records earlier than the writings, of Moses and the Jewish prophets, and historians, and in these I can find no traces of the doctrine which my worthy friend has exhibited. From Genesis to Malachi I 'sco no account of any such malignant omnipresent being as the devil is cominonly imagined to be, and much less of a third 6 divine person," whose office it is to'rectify the evil pro

duced by the second. All good and all evil is in the Jewish :: scriptures, uniformly ascribed to the One God, who is the

great and primary Agent in all events. It is Jehovah, and not the devil, that “ hardens the heart of Pharaoh*." And if there is “ evil in the city,” it is “ the Lord,” and not an evil spirit, " who hath done itt." The word devil never occurs in the Old Testainent, in the sense in which it is now used. And Satan, as my friend well knows, properly signifies only an adversary, and is applied even to God himself, when he appears adverse to the desires and designs of his creatures. Comp. 2. Sam. xxiv. 1. with 1 Chron. xxi. 1. The first chapter of Job is plainly an allegorical description of the calamities which are supposed to have befallen that excellent man. Credulity herself would not re'ceive it in a literal sense.

In the New Testament the word devil is sometimes used to personify the principle of evil, and sometimes the idolatrous and persecuting power, and the want of attention to this figurative mode of expression has misled many readers, who were ignorant of hebrew and oriental phraseology, and has induced them to believe the real existence of an evil spirit.

What my friend advances concerning demoniacal possessions is still more extraordinary than his doctrine concerning the devil. He is not only inclined to admit that cases of real possession existed in the time of our Saviour, but that similar cases occur even now. He quotes with apparent approbation the supposed opinion of the late respectable Dr. Ashworth, " that all insanity proceeds from demoniacal possession,” and he concludes his note with observing, that “ the subject is certainly attended with difficulties, and a person may behieve or disbelieve without any impeachment of his understanding."

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

There is indeed no absurdity which men of the best understanding may not be induced to believe by the force of prejudice and early association, especially if they do not allow themselves to enquire and ex:unine. Athanasianism and transubstantiation have been defended by men of the greatest ajilities and strictest integrity; notwithstanding which, there are few persons who have paid much attention to the subject of late, who will not pronounce those doctrines to be absurdities and contradictions. My worthy friend, who I suppose must have read. Mr. Fariner's incomparable treatise to which he alludes, should know, that possessing demons were never supposed to be fallen angels, but human ghosts. And can he really believe that human ghosts are permitted to enter into the bodies of living men and to torment them? Can he for a moment suppose that a man cannot fall into an epileptic fit, without being struck down by a ghost? or that a lunatic cannot utter blasphemies in his raving paroxysms, without being instigated by a ghost? He may perhaps plead that he believes such persons to be possessed by devils, and not by ghosts. But he well knows ihat this is neither the language nor the doctrine of the New Testament, which invariably distinguishes between devils, and demons, or ghosts; and which never speaks of a man as possessed by devils, but uniformly by ghosts. And if my friend chuses to travel out of the record, and to vindicate his opinions by an appeal to the authority of the platonizing fathers, I will not deny his right, nor impeach his understanding; bui I will beg leave to decline following him into his pathless labyrinth, and to tell him that if he adinits of their authority in matters of faith, I do not. The New Testament teaches no such extravagant doctrine, as that human bodies may be possessed and torniented by, fallen angels: and the account which it reveals of the state of the dead, plainly proves, that, though it uses popular language in describing natural diseases, it gives no countenance to the absurd philosophy upon which that language. was formed.

The fourth Lecture, which treats « of the respect and re-, verence which are due to the Author of our Religion, and the books which contain it,” is introduced with a conces-. sion, whichi, from the pen of a christian minister is not a litile remarkable. ic. If we read,” says my friend, "the history of the wisest nations and the greatest empires, such 23 Persia, Greece, and Roine, we find that they enforced

on the young, respect towards the aged ; on children, rererence for their parents; and on all men profound veneration for the Gods, and the institutions of religion. The beneficial effects of this respect to the wisdom and experience of age, of this deference to parental authority, and this.. devout homage to the POWERS OF HEAVEN, were long seen and felt.” .

I never read a more extraordinary paragraph than this *The beneficial effects of a profound veneration of the gods!-of devout homage to the POWERS OF HEAVEN !-Is this the language of a minister of the gospel ? and of a worshipper of the ONE true and living God? who hath solemnly pronounced “ Thou shalt have no other gods beside me!" Or is it the cant of some pensioned priest, some bireling advocate of a corrupt establishment, heathen or christian, no inatler wbich, but which must at any rate be supported, because it is established.- The beneficial effects” of a profound veneration for the gods “ of Greece and Rome!" Yes rerily,' these 'effects “ were long seen and felt" while they existed : and are not wholly forgotten at this distance of time. Who were more distinguished for their piety to the gods than the heroes of the Iliad? and how exemplary their character! How beneficial the devotion of ihe inhabitants of Cyprus to their celebrated goddess? The piety of Athens is blazoned in the blood of the wisest of her philosophers. We all know the zeal of the Ephesians for their great Diana, and the blessed effect which it produced. How edilying was the piety of ancient Rome, in driving a nail into the capitol to expiate the anger of the Gods, in seasons of great public calamity! And how just the punishment of that impious commander, who when the holy chickens refused their food, ordered them to be thrown into the sea, that they might drink if they would not eat ; in consequence of which he lost the victory and his life. This extraordinary ebullition of charity in my esteemed friend, to the obso-' lete idolatries of Greece and Rome, reminds me of the traveller who pulled off his hat to the statue of Jupiter, hoping that if his godship ever came into fashion again, he would be pleased to remember that he had shewn him respect when nobody else did.

The worthy author having, it should seem, exhausted his stock of charity upon Calvinists, Papists, and Idolaters, has but little left for the unfortuuate Unitarians, against whom he brings a very serious charge in the page which follows

his eulogium upon the idolatries of Greece and Ronie. “ No inconsiderable pains," says he, p. 79. “ bave been taken to lessen the author of our religion, not only by his avowed enemies, but by his professed friends. I do not here refer to his personal dignity but to his moral excellencies, and to his qualifications as a teacher sent from God." To this unjust and groundless accusation I give á peremptory and unqualified denial, and defy my friend to substantiate this invidious charge by the shadow of a proof. Neither Dr. Priestley, the person particularly. alluded to, nor any who think with him, ever did attempt, in the least degree, to “ lessen the author of our religion,” or to depreciate bis character and claims. Of such a conduct they would have abhorred the thought, as much as their severe accuser him. self, or any of his most orthodox friends. None can think more highly, or express themselves more earnestly than they do, of the excellence of the character of their exalted Master, or of the validity of his divine credentials. What they have taken pains, and they trust not unsuccessfully, to lessen, is, the pain and superstitious fancies of their mistaken brethren, who, under pretence of honouring Christ, ascribe to him attributes to which he lays no claim, and some of which infringe upon the prerogatives of God himself. In these labours they glory, and are resolved to persevere ; and how'ever their character may be traduced, and their exertions calumniated, they are under - no apprehension of being disowned by him, in whose service they are enlisted, and whose cause they advocate. As a man he was subject to the frailties and infirmities of human nature, and his exalted character was formed by a gradual process of moral discia pline, We are expressly taught," that he learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” Heb. v. 8. And as the greatest of the prophets of the most High, the spirit was given to him without measure, and he was inspired to the utmost extent which his commission required. If any maintain that his inspiration extended further than this, it would be more becoming in them to produce proof of the fact, than to pass harsh censures upon those who are not able to discover the evidence of it. . In a note, (p. 80,) my friend relates, that in his presence Dr. Price once retorted upon Di. Priestley, with a look and manner which he should never forget ; that there were ng Unitarians in the earliest age of the church, such as there are in the present age. But 1 an assure my friend that whatever Dr. Price might say, or however he might look, he was in this instance most egregiously mistaken. What indeed does the passage which has just been cited from the epistle to the Hebrews imply, but ihat our Lord gradually learned obedience, and that his character was not originally so perfect as it afterwards became. And what has Dr. Priestley said more? : My friend adds, “ I knew a gentleman of great candour and good sense, who said he did not pretend to judge how far Dr. Priestley was right or wrong in his speculative opinions, but he thought his writings had produced a very unhappy effect in lessening people's reverence for the sacred scripture.'' But if this sensible and candid gentleman was as ignorant of Dr. Priestley's sentiments as he professes to be, and as no doubt he was, his good sense and his candour would have been more apparent, if he had given no opinion upon a subject which he did not understand. They who are best acquainted with Dr. Priestley's writings, know that though the tendency of them may be to abate an undiscerning and superstitious veneration for what is called scripture, yet that no person in modern times set a higher value upon the genuine writings of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists ; that no one ever studied them with greater attention ; that no modern critic has thrown greater light upon the doctrine of the divine oracles, and that no person ever exeried more strenuous or successful efforts to infuse into his readers, whether young or old, a rational love to the scriptures and a desire to become acquainted with their invaluable contents.

The Author proceeds further to accuse Dr., Priestley of bó an injudicious defence of the dissenters by which he injured their cause, and of a violent attack upon the established church by which he strengthened that establishment.” As the charge is general and unproved, it is needless to enter into a particular refutation of it. But most assuredly every one is not of the same mind with my worthy friend, with respect to the effect of Dr. Priestley's writings. They who made Dr. Horsley a bishop for defending the doctrine of the church against the attacks of Dr. Priestley, did not think the established church strengthened by those attacks, And the numbers who are of opinion that the errors of the established religion, and the indispensible duty of well informed christians to secede from a corrupt establishment, have been more clearly and more forcibly evinced in the works of Dr. Priestley than in those of any preceding writer, will

« AnteriorContinuar »