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You will, I know, excuse me, if I account to myself for your continuing an Arian, notwithstanding the evidence that has lately been produced in proof of the Socinian, or as I choose to call it, the proper Unitarian hypothesis, in the same manner in which we account for many worthy and intelligent persons continuing Catholics or Calvinists. This we believe to be chiefly owing to their minds having been very early impressed with the fullest persuasion of the truth of their respective principles; to their dwelling long on the árguments in favour of them, (by which they are much magnified in their view,) and to their not giving sufficient attention to those on the other side.
They may have the candour to hear, or to read arguments against their opinions. But their minds being previously indisposed towards them, such arguments find there nothing congenial to themselves, and are not detained long enough to make a due impression. It is like the passage of a ship through the sea, or that of an arrow through the air. No track is left behind. Whatever it be that has once recommended itself to us, and we entirely relish, we wish to see confirmed; and it is always with some degree of aversion that we hear any thing that tends to disturb what we think already well settled.
You have read, I doubt not, with as much care and attention as, from the previous state of your mind, could reasonably be expected, all that has been written by Dr. Lardner, by our common friend Mr. Lindsey, and by myself, in support of the Unitarian hypothesis. But I presume, that you have often refreshed your mind, and recruited your former opinions, by the writings of Dr. Clarke, Bishop Butler, Mr. Pierce, Mr. Emlyn, and other Arians; and having been early conversant with them, they have made an impression like that which is sometimes made on marble before it is concreted into a solid form, and which nothing can afterwards efface.
On the other hand, I shall not be offended, if you should account for my roving from one opinion to another, by supposing that I have a temper of mind too hostile to every thing that is established; or if you should say, that I am more apt to be satisfied with any thing belonging to myself, than with my opinions, and that I am not likely to fix long in any scheme.
Certain it is, that, so far from having much fondness for the opinions that I received from my education, I have gone on changing, though always in one direction, from the time
that I began to think for myself to the present day, and I will not pretend to say when my creed will be fixed.
But whether we be apt to keep our opinions a longer or a shorter time, they please us so long as we can call them ours; and in that state of mind it is natural to give more attention to arguments that make for, than to those that make against them.
As to the Scriptures, the perusal of particular texts never fails to be accompanied with their usual long-approved interpretation; and we oftenest think of, and dwell upon, those which favour our opinions. And with respect to those which seem unfavourable to them, we have all got some method or other of disposing of them, so that they shall not stand in our way; and these modes of accommodation never fail to occur to the mind along with the texts themselves, and thereby effectually preclude the conviction they might otherwise bring along with them. And if we think that, upon the whole, the Scriptures are favourable to our opinions, we are apt to consider ourselves justified in giving little attention to other considerations; which, if properly reflected upon, might serve to give us a better insight into the real sense of scripture itself.
Thus the pious Catholic having always been taught implicit confidence in the decisions of his church, and having always understood our Lord literally, when he said, "This is my body," and "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you;"† it is in vain to object to him the natural impossibility of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. That he leaves with God, whose word, he believes, assures him of the fact. In this, therefore, he thinks it his duty to acquiesce; and he even makes a merit of sacrificing his reason to his faith.
In like manner, you must permit me to say, that, having in a very early period adopted your present opinion concerning Christ; having always considered the Logos in the introduction to the gospel of John, (which was in the beginning with God," and which was God,") to be descriptive of Christ; having always understood the phrases creation by Christ, and his being before Abraham, &c., not in a figurative, but a literal sense, you have satisfied yourself with paying but little regard to the natural improbability (though in my opinion approaching very nearly to an impossibility) of your hypothesis. And then with respect to the
* Matt. xxvi. 26. See. Vol. XIII. p. 310.
↑ John vi. 59.
numerous passages in which Christ is spoken of as a man, unable to do any thing of himself, which the Athanasians interpret of his human nature only, you are satisfied with referring them to his state of degradation, in which he was only" in fashion," or external appearance, " as a man.
Being thus secure with respect to the argument from scripture which we all consider as the great strong hold of our faith; though, I doubt not, you have read with care all that I have written to prove that the great body of primitive Christians were Unitarians, you will naturally think either that the proof is somewhere defective, (though you may not be able to say where,) or at most, that it can only furnish one uncertain light to the interpretation of scripture, which to you appears, in this case, to be so plain, that it needs no interpretation at all.
I have not, therefore, the least expectation that any thing that I have advanced in these Letters will be able to make much impression on your mind; except that you may, perhaps, be led to think, that you had not sufficient authority for concluding that Christ, by his super-human power, accelerated his own death. On this subject I am willing to hope that the evidence I have produced of your having mistaken the meaning of the evangelists is so clear and unexceptionable, that you may not see much to object to it.
But this concession, which is the utmost that I dare flatter myself with the hope of, does not materially affect your general hypothesis. You will even probably still think, that Christ raised himself from the dead, and will have no doubt of his being a great pre-existent spirit, the maker of the world, from matter with which he was furnished by the Father; and that he condescended to become incarnate, for the purpose of making it consistent with the justice of God to receive penitent sinners into his favour.
On the other hand, I must acknowledge, that my persuasion of the simple humanity of Christ, and even that of his being a man, naturally as weak, as fallible, and as peccable as other men, is so fixed, from my present ideas of the meaning of scripture, and a variety of other considerations, tending to prove that such must be the meaning of scripture; that I have no idea of the possibility of my being ever brought to entertain a contrary sentiment. Indeed, I do not think that the arguments in favour of Arianism can be better exhibited, and as I may say, concentrated, than they are in your Sermons. In all probability, therefore, you and I must
wait for farther light till the arrival of the great teacher Death, and the scenes that will follow it.
In the mean time, our difference of opinion on this subject will not, I am confident, make the least change in our friendship and affection. We are equally, I trust, lovers of truth and lovers of virtue; and also equally lovers of Christ, and of his gospel, notwithstanding our very different ideas of his person, and the object of his mission; though you consider him as your maker, and I as the son of Joseph and Mary, and (exclusive of divine communications) as possessed of no natural advantages over his father Joseph, or any other man in a similar situation of life in Judea.
It is likewise an equal satisfaction to both of us to think that, on whichever side the truth lies, it will finally prevail over prejudice and error; and that, though the error be the opinion that we are now contending for, we are ready to say amen to a prayer for the extermination of it.
With the greatest respect and affection,
Præceptum de idolatria quasi tanti ponderis est ac reliqua omnia mandata.
REV. SIR, WHEN the preceding parts of this pamphlet were nearly printed off, I received (obligingly sent me by yourself) a treatise of yours, entitled, "The Divinity and Pre-existence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, demonstrated from
* Well known by his "Hebrew and English" and "Greek and English” Lexicons. He died in 1797, in his 69th year, at Epsom, where, in the church, is an inscription to his memory, written by his friend the Rev. W. Jones, of Nayland. See "Life of the Rev. J. Parkhurst, A.M." prefixed to his "Greek and English Lexicon," Ed. 5, 1809, p. ix.
Scripture, in Answer to the first Section of Dr. Priestley's Introduction to his History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ, together with Strictures on some other Parts of that Work,"* and I cannot pass without notice the production of so learned a writer.
You must excuse me, however, if I say that, having heard some time ago of this publication of yours, I had, from your character, formed expectations, which I do not find answered by it. I had been led to imagine, that you would have criticised my History itself, as a learned ecclesiastical historian, and not have contented yourself with replying to a single section of the Introduction to it, which only relates to a discussion in which little new can be advanced, viz. of the doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the person of Christ. The proper object of my work is to ascertain what must have been the sense of the books of Scripture, from the sense in which they were actually understood by those for whose use they were composed; and to determine what must have been the sentiments of the apostles, by means of the opinions of those who received their instruction from them only.
This is a new, and certainly an important field of argumentation, open to the learned part of the Christian world; and I had flattered myself that Mr. Parkhurst had been prepared to enter it with me. But this you entirely decline, because you think "your time may be much better employed." On the contrary, I cannot help thinking that, in the present state of things, it would have been much better to go over this new ground than to tread over again the old and beaten one.
In your Strictures, however, on my work, you think you have proved that Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, and Polycarp were believers in the divinity of Christ. But what you have urged on this subject appears to me to be of little consequence, and to have been sufficiently obviated by what I have advanced in my History; so that I see no occasion
Published in 1787, with "a Postscript, relative to a late publication of Mr. Gilbert Wakefield." This was his " Enquiry into the Opinions of the Christian Writers of the Three first Centuries, concerning the Person of Jesus Christ," 1784. The Postscript is thus noticed by Mr. Wakefield:
"The Rev. Mr. Parkhurst, formerly of Clare Hall, Cambridge, bestowed part of a book, written more particularly against Dr. Priestley, in attempting to confute some of the positions in this publication. If I recollect rightly, his arguments were nothing more than some of the stale futilities on the plural termination of the Hebrew word ELOHIM, in defence of the Trinity, unworthy of a moment's consideration. If such remarks were philologically just, (which they are not,) who would choose to construct a system so extraordinary, upon the weak foundation of a grummatical singularity of language?" Mem. of Wakefield, I. pp. 249-251.
↑ Answer, p. 147. (P.)