« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
unfavourable specimen. The writer, it must be observed, was
Mr. John Lee, an inveterate Whig and Onitarian; a lawyer also of great notoriety in his day, and attorney-general under the Rockingham administration.
" It will surprize you to hear that the Christian religion is thought to be an object unworthy of the least attention, and that it is not only the most prudent, but the most virtuous and benevolent thing in the world to uivert mens' minds from such foolish ubjects with all the dex. terity that can be. This may cure Dr. Priestley of writing uivinity; which to be sure hardly any budy minus. Yet I do not think our sons more honest, our daughters more chaste, our liberties more sacred, or our property more secure, than in the days when it was thought no dishonour to read or to believe the Scriptures.'
Who would not suppose that the object of the petitioners was to establish Christianity on the ruins of some barbaryus superstition, or that the thirty-nine articles proscribed the use of Scripture, and held out direct encouragements to fraud, protigacy, and pontical servitude? But this able advocate' had not forgotten his own profession, though Mr. Belsham assures us that his integrity was surpassed by none. The debate on this question, which was undoubtedly conducted with great ability and eloquence, affords a singular proof that the coolest and clearest headed men in the hurry of extemporaneous speaking are soinetimes betrayed into the rankest fanaticism. The following passage, in the speech of Sir George Savile, has the unqualified approbation of Mr. Belsham. • Some gentlemen talk of raising barriers about the church of God and protecting his honour-language that almost approaches to blasphemy. What! man, a poor contemptible reptile, talk of raising barriers about the church of God! He might as well talk of protecting omnipotence, and raising barriers about his thronebarriers about the church of God, sir, about that church, which, if there be any veracity in Scripture, the gates of Hell shall not prevail ? The church of God, sir, can protect itself.' Now, besides the very blunder which our biographer imputes to the speakers on the opposite side, that of contounding the universal church of Christ with the national church of England, who does not see, that upon these principles all laws for the punishment of profaneness and blasphemy must be abolished, and that not only are all national establishments for the worship of God unlawful, but all voluntary associations for the same purpose, because God can protect his own honour ? Doubtless he can, and in many awful instances He has vindicated his insulted glory. But these are rare interpositions, and, under the ordinary administration of Providence, He brings about that important end by the instrumentality of his rational creatures.
Another absurdity in this celebrated speech (for every thing will go down on one side and nothing on the other) escapes without animadversion, or probably without being discovered. . What did our Saviour do? Did he send tests and articles to be subscribed ? Did he ask whether they believed this or that or the other doctrine? Whether they were Athanasians, Ariaus or Arminians ?' It wculd indeed have been strange if he had-for though he had the spirit of prophecy, they had not. In short, it is just as if the convocation should have required Clark and Whiston to subscribe a renunciation of the errors of Priestley, Lindsey and Belsham.
In the next place, we are told that Dr. Hallifax of Cambridge was in the gallery, and seemed disappointed that his violeut nonsense had produced so little effect on he house. We abstain from retorting this indecent language on the declaration of Sir George Savile; but it may be proper to inform Mr. Belsham, or rather our readers in general, that although Dr. Hallifax's “ forte' was not severe ratiocination, yet the three celebrated discourses preac bed by him before the University of Cambridge on the subject of subscription, (for to them the writer alludes,) abundantly answered the end for which they were intended. They were avowedly meant to counteract the Socinian poison which Jebb by his lectures was then scattering among the young men of the University, and to produce this effect no style was likely to be so successful as vehement and impassioned declamation : yet it was no puerile declamation ; for one of the first lawyers of the day, who afterwards rose to the summit of his profession, declared these discourses to be the best specimens of pulpit eloquence which he had ever heard. They were indeed a sort of violent nonsense' never heard from presbyterian pulpits.
After a copious effusion of admiration and panegyricon the venerable sufferer,' the interesting confessor,'&c. in that soft and sickening style which the biographer appears to have picked up from Mr. Hayley's Life of Cowper, we are conducted to his friend's subsequent establishment in Essex-street: moving, however, smoothly along, we stumbled on a passage, which occasioned a momentary delay in our progress. Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ, is called one of the most learned and most useful theological works which the age has produced, a work which demonstrates, in a manner which never has, and never can be confuted, that from the earliest age of the Christian religion down to the fourth century, the great body of unlearned Christians were strictly Unitarian. This is modest in the extreme, after the author of the work in question has been convicted again and again of the grossest misrepresentation, the most disgraceful ignorance of Greek; in short, after he has, in the opinion of every competent
and impartial judge of ecclesiastical antiquity, received from Bishop Horsley the severest castigation which a rash and arrogant invader of another's province ever received in the fields of controversy.
Our limits will afford little space for controversy ; but it is impossible to do justice to the subject without noticing the extreme confusion of Mr. Lindsey's ideas on controversial subjects. In a work, called by his biographer the most elaborate of all Mr. Lindsey's productions, he goes on to plead, from the language of Moses and the prophets, and from the explicit declarations of the apostles and evangelists, and even of Christ himself, that he was really a man, a proposition which we presume the idolatrous 'church of Evgland would have conceded to him without an elaborate proof. In the year 1781 Mr. Lindsey published a small volume, called The Catechist, consisting of several dialogues, in which we meet with the following passagem It is a thing in itself utterly impossible that a being should be God and man, Creator and creature, self-existent, independent, eternal, and limited, dependent and having beginuing of existence at the same time, omniscient and omnipotent, and yet ignorant and weak.' This, no doubt, may be very good theology in Essex-street, and irrefragable logic at Hackney; but it unfortunately begs a question of some consequence to the argument, namely, that this Being is simple and uncompounded.
With equal cogency it might be argued,” • It is a thing in itself utterly impossible that a being should be soul and body, intelligent, conscious, immaterial, eternal, indiscerptible, and mortal, material, dissoluble, unconscious, and unintelligent. But we beg pardon ; there is, it seems, no such thing as an immaterial and immortal soul
Next follows an account of Robert Robinson, of Cambridge, a man of genius, but of violent and versatile temper; in the vigor of his age and faculties a Trinitarian, in his dutage a disciple of Priestley; whose incomparable plea for the divinity of Christ is represented, as usual, to have been completely and triumphantly rebutted by Mr. Lindsey.
The writer's attention is next turned to Bishop Horne, whose Under-graduate's Letter effected in Oxford what Dr. Hallifax's 'violent nonsense' had done in Cambridge; in revenge of which, we suppose, his Commentary upon the Psalms is denoininated by Mr. Belshamn strange and extravagant.' It will be long, however, before a work of the same elegant and pathetic devotion issues from the Unitarian school, whose views of religion slight, and cold, and tasteless, torpify whatever they touch, and who are as iucapable of transmitting the feelings and graces of the inspired writers, as they are unwilling to assent to their high and humbling doctrines. Mr. Lindsey, it seems, in his earlier days, (would that it had
VOL, VII. NO. XVI.
been some years later!) was acquainted with the iniinitable Bishop Butler, in speaking of whom this writer disgusts us by that shallow petulance, that grin of vile self-complacence, that insensibility to any merit above Presbyterian mediocrity, which offends in every part of the work, though it no where revolts the universal feelings of mankind so much as on this subject—the shallow metaphysics of Bishop Butler!' Scarcely should we have been more astonished to hear of the erudition and profuudity of Mr. Belsham. Once more
He (Mr. Lindsey) is remarking upon the sad and sombre view of the physical and moral state of the world which the learned Bishop Butler exhibits in his celebrated Analogy
Of this eminent prelate Mr. Lindsey speaks as a person that had great piety, but of a gloomy cast, and tending to superstition, which be seems to have caught from reading the lives of Popish saints. He always appeared dissatisfied with the public state of things, and of the world, which probably originated in the erroneous opinions which he entertained of the character of the Divine Being, and of his governing Providence. In his Analogy he represents the world as having the appearance of a ruin, and that mankind, according to the Scriptures, are in a state of degradation.'
As if Bishop Butler had invented the doctrine of the fall! Who; we would ask, entertains more erroneous opinions of the character of the Divine Being, the theologian who believes and teaches according to Scripture that God made man upright, but he sought unto himself many inventions, or he who supposes that the species came out of the hands of their Maker with their present dispositions and propensities ? But from his death to the present hour this great prelate has been libelled by the party, not only for his deep and awful views of religion, but because he left their camp when the plague was beginning to spread. Mr. Lindsey's proof of the innocence of human nature, and the happiness of the present life, is very pleasant.
* Far, very far is it from being a miserable world that we now live in, but much the contrary; nor I apprehend has there ever been the least reason to call it so in general, however some individuals may have suffered by it. For my own part, my condition has been most happy. Preserved from great calamities, I have not been exempt from hardships, reverses, and sicknesses, but the kind hand of providence has been discernible in them all, leading to good by them. I have most particularly cause to speak well of those of my fellow beings whom I have been acquainted with, and I would desire no better company for ever than those I have known and loved, and heard and read of, especially when divested of all selfishness and terrene concretions,' &c. It is very certain, that by means of a good constitution, à calm
temper, a virtuous education, a competent fortune, and the society to which these advantages will introduce him, a solitary individual here and there may pass very happily through the world. But neral conclusious from particular premises infer nothing. How would these complacent advocates of innocence and happiness have cried out against this very argument if retorted upon themselves! You say that this world is a scene of virtue and happiness. I have found it, from my youth up, the
very reverse. Tortured by hereditary disease, born with constitutional low spirits, abandoned by my parents to oppression and tyranny, seeking for consolation in friendship but finding nothing but treachery and un. kindness, I can expect in hell itself nothing worse than my society on earth, excepting that the wickedness of my companions here may there perchance be a little spiritualized and exalted. The world, therefore, from my experience, is universally wicked and miserable! These are the reasoners who talk of the shallow metaphysics of Butler!' We must next be indulged in a few remarks on their theology.
The work before us, like many others of the present day, in the shape of narrative, is properly controversy. Professing to exhibit the life and character of an amiable and disinterested man, struggling for a series of years under the convictions of a wounded conscience, and groaning under the insupportable load of creeds and subscriptions, but at length resolutely braving poverty and disgrace in the cause of truth, Mr. Belsham never loses sight of his real object, which is to hold up to mankind the pure unitarian doctrine as the standard of truth, never fails to adorn the professors of it with every epithet of exuberant panegyric, as the wise and excellent of the earth. On the other hand, no rank or station, however exalted, no character, however venerable, can protect the opponents of Lindsey and Priestley. Nay, by an artifice as base as it is flimsy, in proportion as any antagonist of his heroes bas rendered himself formidable, in the same proportion is he declared to be contemptible beyond his fellows. This is remarkably exemplified in his flippant mention of Bishop Horsley. The adversary whom he affects to despise he is sure to fear.
It may be worth while to expose that wayward process of mind by which men of a certain turn have been led to adopt an hypothesis concerning the nature and offices of Christ, apparently so contradice , tory to the unsophisticated sense of Scripture. Overpowered by the innumerable marks of divine truth, which characterize the saered volume, yet unable, or unwilling, to submit his understanding to the reception of the peculiar doctrines of revelation, which, according to every ordinary rule of interpretation, are unquestionE E 2