« EdellinenJatka »
course as to give room for much controversy. Whenever that shall take place, and the common people be in a capacity of reading and judging for themselves, less than a century, I am persuaded, will be sufficient fully to establish the credit of the one system, and to destroy that of the other. Which of the two must yield in the contest, I, who am a Christian, cannot have a doubt.
On the contrary, Christianity, from the earliest period, was eagerly attacked and defended, the common people gave great attention to the controversy, and it was the manifest superiority of the Christian apologists, in point of argament, that decided between them.
The same observations will apply to the reformation from Popery; and had not the civil powers intervened, there can be no doubt but that an end would soon have been put to the authority of the Church of Rome, and the chief corruptions of it. Had the reading of Protestant books only been allowed in Popish countries, the Reformation would have kept advancing, notwithstanding all the opposition from the civil powers.
The controversy between the Unitarians and Trinitarians has been open many years, much has been written on both sides, the common people are become parties, and civil government does not directly interfere. In these circumstances, it is a fact which no person can deny, that a great number of the common people, with à much greater proportion of men of learning, are become Unitatarians; and this has been the case so long, that there can be no doubt of its continuance.
The effect of free discussion is to produce a number of persons capable of writing in defence of their principles. Unbelievers really qualified to write upon the subject are very few, compared with learned Christians. It is no less evident that learned Unitarians increase, while learned Trinitarians decrease. These facts are sufficient to enable any person, without making himself master of the respective arguments, to conclude that Unitarian Christians will continue to increase, to the extermination of Unbelievers on the one hand, and Trinitarians on the other. The interference of the civil powers, and the influence of splendid establishments, may retard this event, but will not be able to prevent it.
Some may smile at this method of calculating and predicting events. But moral causes are as uniform and certain in their operation as natural ones, and when the data are equally clear, the principles will authorize equally sure conclusions.
If a man of common sense only, without any knowledge of philosophy, were told that the Newtonian system of the universe, after having been canvassed by philosophers of all nations, had, notwithstanding great opposition, been gradually gaining ground for the space of more than half a century, he would not doubt the universality of its reception in time. Having similar data, I think we may venture to predict the universal prevalence of Unitarianism in a future period.
If the controversy between the Arians and the Socinians should be kept up ten or twenty years longer, and in all that time the Socinians should continue to increase, as they have done during the last ten years, few persons will be backward to prognosticate that Arianism also will finally and even soon be exterminated, especially as it has not the support of the civil powers.
The principles on which I argue will hardly be contested; but persons, according as they are disposed with respect to particular controversies, will see the facts relating to them in different lights. What I say of the uniform spread of Unitarian principles may possibly be denied by some Trinitarians, but it is allowed by Unitarians. To them, therefore, it holds out a sure prospect of a final triumph over all their adversaries, and it is for their encouragement that I make these observations.
To write in this manner may be said to be imprudent, as it is giving an alarm to those who now apprehend no danger, and therefore make no efforts to prevent it. But the friends of free inquiry and truth may rest satisfied, that, as every effort which has hitherto been made to bear down the cause for which they contend has, in reality, served to promote it, so also will every future effort that can be made for the same purpose. The cause of truth may be compared to an engine constructed so as to be put in motion by the tide, and which is kept in its proper movement, whether the water flow in or flow out. Nothing here is wanting but motion, it being impossible for that motion, from whatever quarter it arise, to operate unfavourably.
The best worldly policy, in the enemies of truth, is, no doubt, that of those who endeavour to stifle all inquiry, who read nothing, and who reply to nothing. But even this will do but little, while the friends of truth are zealous and active in its interests ; as by this means they have the advantage, in the eye of the world, of being known to invite and provoke discussion; being seen to walk over the field of controversy without an adversary; though it would certainly be inore desirable still to have a respectable opponent.
As to this country, we may be confident that, while error and superstition are falling every where abroad, they can never really gain ground here. We have in a great measure set the example of free inquiry, and have taken the lead in religious liberty to other nations; and though the policy of the times may be averse to any extension of this liberty, circumstances will no doubt arise, that will hereafter be as favourable to it in this country as they are now in others. Having hitherto been foremost in this great cause, it will not be in the power of man to keep us long behind the rest of Europe. A broad, they are the governing powers that promote reformation.* But with us, the people think and act for themselves, a circumstance infinitely more promising for an effectual and permanent reformation; there being nothing of worldly policy in the case, but a pure love of truth that is the great spring of action with us.
Notwithstanding, therefore, the indolence and indifference of friends, and the silence, or virulent opposition of enemies, let the advocates of free inquiry steadily pursue their purpose. Let us examine every thing with the greatest freedom, without any regard to consequences, which, though we cannot distinctly see, we may
*“ To answer their own political purposes," as Dr. Priestley remarks. See Vol.
assure ourselves will be such as we shall have abundant cause to rejoice in.
Some persons dislike controversy, as leading to a diversity of opinions. But as this is a necessary, so it is only a temporary inconvenience. It is the only way to arrive at a permanent and useful uniformity, which it is sure to bring about at last. Religious truth cannot be so different a thing from truth of every other kind, but that it must at length overcome all opposition; and the knowledge of its having stood the test of the severest examination, by men sufficiently able and interested to oppose it, will at last produce a firm conviction, that all future opposition will be equally vain, and thus terminate in the most unwavering acquiescence. It will be said that this process is a very slow one.
But it is as sure in its operation, as it is necessary in the nature of things. Every great truth, in the firm belief of which mankind now universally acquiesce, has gone through the same process; and it has generally been longer in proportion to its importance, though somewhat shorter in proportion to the activity with which the controversies it has occasioned have been conducted. By promoting discussion, therefore, we really accelerate this progress, and are bringing forward the period of uniformity ; while those who are the enemies of free inquiry, and who hate all controversy, are prolonging that state of suspense and diversity of opinion, which they so much dislike, and pushing back that very uniformity of opinion for which they sigh. For, this period of controversy must have its course, and come to its proper termination, before any valuable and lasting uniformity can take place. The conduct of those who wish to see an end of controversy at present, may be compared to that of those who should endeavour to keep a ship steady in its place at sea, when our aim should be, by using all our sails and oars, to get into harbour, where alone it can be kept steady.
The great articles which are now in a course of discussion will not be determined in our time. But if we exert ourselves, this work may be accomplished in the time of our children, or grand-children; and surely if we have any elevation or comprehension of mind, we may look forward to, and actually enjoy, the happiness we procure for them. We scruple not to plant trees for the benefit of posterity. Let us likewise sow the seeds of truth for them, and anticipate the acknowledgments they will make us on that account.
I do not write this from a persuasion that every thing that I have myself contended for is indisputably true. On the contrary, I have for the sake of discussion, hazarded many things, and shall probably hazard many more; and I have actually changed many opinions, theological as well as philosophical, which I have advanced since I was a writer. But if men make use of their faculties at all, and especially in that period which is most favourable to inquiry, (wbich is about the middle time of life,) they may arrive at so much certainty, as will justify them in expressing a considerable degree of confidence, at least with respect to those subjects to which they have given the closest attention.
I do profess to have this confidence in my opinion concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. I do not think the doctrine of Transubstantiation more manifestly absurd, and this is by much the less mischievous of the two. Not that I think there are no wise and good men who are advocates for the doctrine of the Trinity. I acknowledge there are. But there are likewise many persons, of whose ability and integrity also I think very highly, who are advocates for the doctrine of Transubstantiation; and as there were learned Pagans five centuries after the promulgation of Christianity, there may be some respectable believers in the doctrines of the Trinity and of Transubstantiation, some ages hence.
The minds of a few individuals may be so locked up as that no keys we can apply will be able to open them. But it is with the bulk of mankind that we have to do, because they will always be within the reach of reason. And solitary unbelievers, or solitary bigots, may have their use in the general system ; an use similar to that of the few idolatrous inhabitants of the land of Canaan, who were not extirpated; which was that of trying and exercising the Israelites, without having it in their power to drive them out again.
No. XII. ANIMADVERSIONS ON SOME PASSAGES IN MR. WHITE's SERMONS
AT THE BAMPTON LECTURE. *
(See supra, p. 304.) The subject of these reflections has led me to animadvert upon some pretty remarkable passages in Mr. White's late Sermons at the Bampton Lecture, f and the Notes he has subjoined to them. I They are the more extraordinary considering the times in which we live, and the progress that liberality of thinking has made in this country, at least beyond the bounds of Oxford.
This writer, declaiming against Mahometanism, has thought proper to join Socinianism with it; observing, very justly, that " the title of Unitarian is equally boasted of by the disciple of Socinus, and the follower of the Arabian prophet;” but asserting at the same time, without sufficient authority, that “ notwithstanding this remarkable coincidence of opinion, there is scarcely any thing which the modern Socinian affects to regard with greater abhorrence and
• Por some excellent strictures on Mr. White's Sermons, as far as they relate to the doctrine of the Trinity, I refer my reader to the Preface (pp. xiv.-sivi.] to“ An Examination of Mr. Robinson of Cambridge's Plea for the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by a late Member of the University," (a work which it certainly behoves Mr. Robinson, if he does not give up all pretensions to a love of truth, to reply to,) and also the Appendix to Mr. Toulmin's “ Dissertations on the Internal Evidence and Excellence of Christianity." (P.) See Mem. of Lindsey, pp. 187— 191; Vol. XV. p. 416.
Mr. Lindsey republished the Examination, with his name, and some additious in an Advertisement, prefixed. He there says, (p. vii.,) “ I have heard with great pleasure that Mr. Robinson no longer holds the doctrine here advanced by him, but is now a believer of the Divine Unity." See Vol. XV. p. 417.
7. “ Sermons, containing a View of Christianity and Mahometanism, in their History, their Evidence, and their Effects; preached before the University of Oxford, in the Year 1784, at the Lecture founded by the Rev. John Bampton, M. A., By Joseph White, B.D., Fellow of Wadham College, Archbishop Laud's Professor of Arabic, and one of his Majesty's Preachers at Whitehall.” Ed. 2, 1785.
1 For Mr. Badcock's probable share in these Notes, see supra, p. 276, Note t.
indignation, than a comparison that associates his own tenets with those of Mahomet."*
On the contrary, as far as the agreement goes, I rejoice in the comparison, and am happy in reflecting that so great a proportion of the human species are worshippers of the one true God; hoping that it will in time be a means of bringing them to the profession of Christianity; when they shall understand that it is no infringement of the most fundamental article of their own creed.
With the same reason that Mr. White classes Socinians with Mahometans, I might class all the members of the Church of England with those of the Church of Rome, as being equally believers in the doctrine of the Trinity; and I do not imagine that Mr. White would think himself affronted by the comparison. I, moreover, think it quite as probable that Mr. White will turn Papist as that I shall turn Mahometan.
But this is not the only circumstance with respect to which Mr. White has betrayed his ignorance of Socinians. “ The Socinian and the Mahoinetan,” he says, “ object to our doctrine, its inconsistency with human reason. The objection supposes that man is possessed of a larger comprehension than falls to the lot of mortality, and that what he cannot understand, cannot be true.”+
Now, in fact, we go upon no other supposition than this, that the mind of man can comprehend that one is not three, or three, one ; and this is surely no great matter to boast of. On the other hand, the great comprehension that he speaks of, is that which is requisite to believe that three are no more than one, and to perceive the possibility “ of a three-fold mode of subsistence in the Divine nature." Nay it requires no small degree of ability to know what that strange phrase (which it is vain to look for in the Scriptures) can possibly mean. Mr. White himself acknowledges that "the human intellect is incapable of forming any precise ideas of the subject;" but how any man can believe without having precise ideas of what he says, is, to my plain understanding, utterly incomprehensible. According to Mr. Locke, believing consists in perceiving the agreement or disagreement of ideas; but when there are no ideas, how can their agreement or disagreement be perceived? We Socinians do not say, as Mr. White supposes, that nothing can be true that we do not understand, but only that if we do not understand it, we cannot know it to be true. To assert the contrary, would be like
my swearing to the truth of what Mr. White should say to me in Arabic, when I can barely read that language. Yet such a believer, by his own confession, is he in the three-fold mode of subsistence in the Divine nature. The words indeed are English, but they might as well have been in Shanscrit.
“ We appeal,” Mr. White says, “ to the Scriptures," and so do the Socinians, and with as much confidence as he can do. “But," he says, “ the Mahometans and Socinians have both discovered the same methods of interpretation, and either by false glosses pervert their plain and obvious meaning; or, when the testimony is so direct and explicit that no forced construction can evade it, they have
• Notes, p. Ixi. (P.)
+Ibid. p. Ixjii, (P.)
Ibid, p. lxi. (P.)