« ZurückWeiter »
vernment of the country are satisfied with their conduct. We pure, pose, at the close of this article, to make a few observations on that repeal; in the mean time, we can confidently assure Mr. Belsham, that of all the motives which he could have thought of, none had so little influence in producing it, as an approbation of the principles or conduct of the unitarians.
Mr. Belsham's first topic of complaint is the passage already extracted, where the bishop affirms, that the opposite extremes of defect or excess in religious belief and feeling are often made to unite, for the purpose of carrying on a common hostility against the established church. By this he rightly understands it to be meant, that the unitarians and the methodists, the coldest and the hottest Christians, are always ready to go hand in hand, whenever a common advantage is to be pursued against the church; and he argues at some length, that it is impossible the unitarians can be hostile to the church; that they have no reason to wish for its downfall, &c. We should be the more disposed to allow some weight to this reasoning, if we did not see it quite contradicted by facts. It is notorious that, whenever a question has arisen between the dissenting interests and those of the church, dissenters of all descriptions, (certainly without any exception of the unitarians, though more widely separated in doctrine from each other than from the church, have suspended at once their own differences, and come to a cordial agreement, in order to further their common purpose. If a particular instance should be desired, we would refer to the circumstances which took place in regard to Lord Sidmouth’s bill for placing dissenting teachers under certain regulations. No sooner was this bill construed to have an unfavourable bearing on the dissenters as a body, than an amalgamation of the most discordant materials took place with astonishing rapidity; all, from the unitarian to the methodist, moved together as one man, and shook hands as if they had never differed in opinion, for the sole purpose of carrying what they deemed a point of advantage against the church.
Another allegation in the bishop's Charge, which Mr. Belsham professes to feel a necessity of repelling, is, that under the name of unitarians are at present included many deists and infidels, who have taken shelter under this denomination, as less invidious and unpopular than the real title which they should bear. Now whether this be the case or not, must be matter of inference and conjecture: it can admit of no proof, because if the deist assumes the name of unitarian for the purpose of disguise, he will, of course, never avow what he really is. Mr. Belsham denies the fact, but supports his denial by a very insufficient mode of reasoning. To what purpose, he asks, should the deist rank himself with the unitarians who have neither honours por emoluments to bestow? The an
swer is very plain. The deist who believes nothing of Christianity will, if he be disposed to range himself under any sect, naturally unite himself to that which believes very little of Christianity: and, unquestionably, the unitarian sect is that which in this sense approaches nearest to the deist. Mr. Belsham further asserts that many able defenders of Christianity have appeared among the unitarians. But this is only to assert that some unitarians have been conscientious believers in the divinity of Christ's mission, a fact which was never disputed.
But, whether it be true or not that many self-called unitarians are really deists, it is, we think, undeniable that the unitarians are the best allies which the deists have; for the reasonings which they adopt, and the principles on which they proceed, are precisely those which, with a very little variation in the mode of applying them, will destroy the grounds of all Christianity. The unitarian and the deist both fall into their errors from a certain pride of understanding which makes them unwilling to submit their reason to revelation. In the one, this leads to the rejection of the essential doctrines of Christianity; in the other, to the total disbelief of that religion, as a religion sent from God. The unitarian cuts off, without scruple, from the book of revelation any part which happens to oppose his views of what a revelation ought to contain; as appears in the late notable instance of his arbitrary rejection of the narratives of the miraculous conception in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke; and as has formerly appeared in the atteinpt to reject as spurious the exordium of St. John's Gospel. The deist must relish beyond measure such a proceeding, for he cannot fail to observe that there are just as good grounds for rejecting the whole of the New Testament, as these particular parts of it. When Dr. Priestley was once pressed by the clear sense of a scriptural text which was too stubborn to bend to his schemes, he declared, that sooner than admit the received sense, he would suppose the whole verse to be an interpolation, or the amanuensis of the Apostle to have committed an error in taking down his words !-a very useful hint for the deist who has only to extend the same principle, and his purpose is accomplished. The unitarian considers the language of Scripture, on every occasion when its literal sense opposes his opinions, to be figurative. Thus, on consulting a recent work by Mr. Belsham, entitled, “ A calm Inquiry into the Person of Christ,' we find that our Saviour is said in Scripture to have created all things, by a figure! he is now exalted to the government of the world by a figure; he made atonement for the sins of mankind by a figure: according to his ideas, Satan is a personification of the evil principle; and angels, good and bad, are merely symbolical persons, added to preserve the costume of the
picture. picture. p. 196. If it be possible that he or any unitarians can be in earnest when they reason in this manner; they must allow that, precisely on the same principle, any one may contend that Jesus is only a symbolical character, perhaps a personification of the good principle; that his twelve apostles are only added to preserve the costume of the picture; that he is related to have risen from the dead by a figure, and so on. In fact, we have no hesitation in affirming that, although the unitarian professes to receive as a divine revelation those scriptures which the deist rejects, yet the principles on which he proceeds are precisely those which must lead to deism; and, as far as can be judged from appearances, many of those who are called unitarians have at least advanced half way towards the rejection and disbelief of all Christianity.
Such, then, are the two principal allegations of the Bishop of London, in refutation of which Mr. Belsham thought it expedient to write a pamphlet. He has shewn, as is customary with him, some adroitness in misunderstanding and perverting expressions. The reader may take the following as a specimen. The Bishop of Loidon had said of the unitarians that, ' loving to question rather than to learn, they approached the oracles of divine truth without that humble docility, that prostration of the understanding and will, which are indispensable to proficiency in Christian instruction. Mr. Belsham affects to understand the words ' prostration of the understanding' as if the bishop ineant that all exercise of the understanding ought to be precluded in matters of religion; and accordingly be bursts forth into the following rhapsody-p. 75.
*Prostration of the understanding! God forbid! No, my lord; if any one had charged us with admitting as a revealed truth, as an oracle of God, as a doctrine of Jesus, a proposition which, previously to its reception, required a prostration of the understanding, we should have regarded it as a calumny more absurd and injurious than any which the ingenuity and malignity of our bitterest adversaries have ever yet invented.
We suppose there are persons with whom such rhapsodies have their effect; otherwise Mr. Belsham would not employ them. Still it appears impossible he should not be aware that the Bishop meant by the expression a humble disposition to submit the understanding to revealed truth, to form no preconceived opinions of what a revelation ought to contain, but seriously to inquire into, and readily to embrace, those truths which are contained in the revelation we possess. If Mr. Belsham would, in this sense of the word, endeavour to acquire' prostration of understanding;' we suspect that he would soon shake off those opinions which we betieve to be so very erroneous.
We We think it right to enter our protest against one species of bold assertion, which is not unfrequent with Mr. Belsham; we mean that of claiming, without due authority, the names of respectable persons, as maintainers of unitarian tenets. Among others, Mr. Belsham says that the opinions of Shipley, late Bishop of St. Asaph, and Law, late Bishop of Carlisle, on this subject were well known;'-evidently insinuating that they were unitarians in doctrine. We believe his insinuation in regard to both of these prelates to be false; we are confident that he had no sufficient authority which could warrant him in thus publicly advancing it. It is quite new to us that Bishop Shipley was ever suspected of unitarian principles. Of Bishop Law we have heard the assertion made before; but we could never learn that there was any other authority for it than the natural desire of the unitarians to connect the name of so eminent a prelate with their cause, and the fact of his having maintained, in one of his publications, a very singular opinion respecting the sleep of the soul. This opinion is possibly the same which unitarians hold on that subject, for they have a constant partiality for every thing new and singular in theology: but it has not the most remote connection with any doctrine respecting the person of Christ, and may as well be held by a trinitarian as by an unitarian. On the subject of the Trinity we have the recorded opinion of this prelate in bis subscription to the Articles, solemnly declaring that he believed the doctrine; we have no record whatever of his having disbelieved it; and therefore it is palpably unjust to make such assertions respecting him after his decease.
We have expressed the intention of making a few observations respecting the late repeal of the penalties against the unitarians. We are the more disposed to take advantage of the present opportunity for doing this, because we have reason to believe that, in many quarters, the motives from which consent was given to that repeal, have not been distinctly understood; and because we know that, in some quarters, those motives have been industriously misrepresented. In saying that they have been industriously misrepresented, we allude to the language which the unitarian party have held on the subject, in boldly and unblushingly insinuating, what we hold it to be morally impossible they should not know to be false, that the repeal of these laws carried with it a decision of the legislature in favour of their opinions, and that an inference is to be drawn from the consent to the repeal, that our government and church are now less firm, than heretofore, in maintaining the doctrine of the Trinity, as an essential doctrine of Christianity. Mr. Belsham, we observe, has been amongst the foremost to hail the period of this repeal as a most brilliant era. He says, in a sermon published on the occasion, that he considers the event as ' an important move in the progress of civilization;' as an important triumph of religious freedom;' as an auspicious prelude to that happy day, when an invidious and limited toleration shall give way to universal religious liberty. Now we have no hesitation in saying that, if we considered the repeal in question to imply any favourable disposition towards the unitarians, or any want of firmness in resisting their opinions; or, if we considered it to have the remotest tendency to bring on Mr. Belsham's happy day--a day, when the essential truths of the Gospel are to be surrendered, and heresy. and deism to ride triumphant over the ruins of genuine Christianity -we should consider the measure as the most pernicious in its principle, and alarning in its tendency, that ever passed the British legislature. But, in truth, we view it in a very different light, and anticipate from it no such baneful results: we consider it to be nothing more than an extension to the unitarians, as a sect of professing Christians, of that legal toleration, which is an acknowledged principle of our constitution, which is freely granted to all other professing Christians, and the refusal of which, to this particular sect, was inconsistent with the general spirit of our laws. The only evil which we conceive to be connected with it, is the opportunity which it affords to the unitariau party of falsely assuming a triumphant tone, and of endeavouring to delude the unwary by vaunting the ascendancy of their cause, and misrepresenting the motives which led to the repeal.
The facts stood thus. Our practice, in regard to those dissenters who deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, was directly opposed by the enactments of our statute-book. In practice, those who deny the Trinity have experienced precisely the same toleration as all other dissenters : they have had their places of public worship licensed by the magistrate; they have been allowed their licensed teachers and preachers; and have been suffered, without molestation, to assert their doctrines both by writing and by discourse. On the other hand, in our statutes, very severe penalties were denounced against all persons, who, either in writing or in preaching, denied the doctrine of the Trinity. Such persons were, by a special clause, excluded from the benefits of the toleration act; and, by an act passed in the 9th and 10th of William and Mary, it was declared, that those who deny any one of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God, shall, for the first offence, be rendered incapable of holding any office, civil, military, or ecclesiastical; and that, on the second conviction, they shall be disabled from suing or prosecuting in any court of law, from holding the office of guardian of a child, or administrator of a will, held' not capable of any legacy or deed of gift,' and imprisoned for three years without bail.
you. XIV. No. XXVII. D