Page images

high churchmen and tories still are, a degree of blindness and intolerance which was utterly unexpected; nevertheless the light of truth, and the knowledge of men's civil and religious rights are increased to such a degree as cannot now be stifled, but will expand itself more and more. Men will not only think freely on these most important topics, which indeed no power can prevent; but will hold it a duty to publish their thoughts, and to act as they dictate, whilst they give no reasonable offence to the governing powers.

Marcellinus was thus rapidly going on with his free remarks, when ****, whom I shall name VOLUSIAN, of no small eminence in a learned and honourable profession, a warm advocate for the established church, but a greater friend to virtue and goodness, addressed himself to him somewhat abruptly.

VOLUSIAN. I beg pardon, my friend, for inter rupting the effusions of your fervent and liberal mind, which are always agreeable, though sometimes eccen tric, to me at least. I declare, however, my entire acquiescence in the greatest part of what you have advanced, particularly that men are not to be abridged in any of their civil rights for their religious opinions; that the whole history of the Test-laws, and their imposition at this day upon dissenters, are a discredit as well as detriment to the country; and that it is the strict duty of every government to allow men their different religious worship after their own mode, without any penalty, restraint, or hindrance whatsoever, so long as they do nothing therein to disturb the public peace; and that this is no more a favour, than to allow them to breathe the air, or see the light of the sun..

I hope then, continues he, that it will be granted me that I am for liberty as much as any one, so far as is consistent with the peace and happiness of the whole community; though I confess I cannot in some things go the lengths that Marcellinus would have me. All men ought certainly to enjoy their opinions, and follow what appears to them right: but there ought to be some reserve and limitation, in not permitting them to publish sentiments that are likely to throw the whole state into convulsions.

I condemn, Marcellinus, no less than you, the outrages committed at Birmingham, and the particular atrocious attempts against Dr. Priestley, and injuries done to him. And I blush at the report but too much verified, of many of higher rank rejoicing over what has befallen him; which looks too much, as if they would not have been sorry, if, after setting fire to his house and library, he himself had been thrown into the flames with them.

But then it must be allowed that, his severe censures of the doctrine and worship of our church, and predictions of its downfal, if it do not reform itself according to his plan, may have contributed to excite, however wrongly, some of this bad spirit, which has appeared against him.

For my own part, I must declare, that when first I becane accidentally acquainted with a Sermon of his preached this very year, on the anniversary of the foundation of their New College at Hackney, I was so disturbed, that I did not know what to do, or how to think of myself, on account of his so bluntly and

[ocr errors]


peremptorily declaring the worship of Jesus Christ to be idolatrous.

Such a crude, unqualified declaration coming from so celebrated a name, must either raise passion and indignation against him, for such a rude attack upon what a man has hitherto held most sacred, the God he worships: or create gloomy fears and apprehensions, which he will not know how to quiet, about a matter of such infinite moment. In short, why disturb people about such merely speculative points, which are never fully to be comprehended, and not rather confine his teachings to what relates to a good life and practice?

MARCELLINUS.-I think, my friend, replies Marcellinus, you do not act with your wonted candour, in so directly and unreservedly blaming a christian preacher for apprizing his hearers, on a very solemn occasion, of an error of great consequence, which almost universally has obtained among christians, and for terming it, idolatry; which the worship of Jesus Christ really is, if he be so far from God, that he is only his creature, and a creature of the human race.

This is not a novel sentiment; nor is it only of late that it has been produced by this author; but which for many years he has thought it his duty to declare and to testify. There is here in the library a volume of his tracts, which contains the sermon, preached in the dissenters' place of worship at Birmingham, in 1780, on his undertaking the pastoral office among them, in which he introduces the mention of this point. And he does it with so much seriousness and calinness, that those who may not like the doctrine, will not be displeased

[ocr errors]

B 3

pleased with the preacher; and therefore, Volusian, if

you will give me leave, and the I shall read the passage to you. readily declaring their assent, book, and read as follows:

rest of our friends,

Upon the company Marcellinus took the

"Of these corrupt doctrines, the seeds of which were sown in a very early age, none gives so much just cause of alarm, and therefore ought more to excite the zeal of the truly enlightened friends of pure chris" tianity, and who wish well to its propagation among jews and mahometans, than that relapse into idolatry, with which many who call themselves christians are justly chargeable; an idolatry, similar to that which it was the great object of the jewish and christian religions to overturn. For, in consequence of the worship of saints and angels in the church of Rome, the true God is almost as much lost sight of as he was in the heathen world, who worshipped stocks and stones, under the notion of their being emblems or representatives of the divinity.

Though this idolatry proceeded till it came to the worship of a piece of bread, as supposed to be the real body and blood of Christ, it began with paying divine honours to Christ himself: who though the most distinguished messenger of God to man, himself uniformly asserted the proper unity of the Divine Being, and spoke of his Father, exclusively of all other persons, or beings, as the only true God (John xvii. 3.) his Father as well as our Father, and his God as well our God; (John xx. 17.) and whose highest title is, the mediator between God and man, the man Christ


[ocr errors]

Jesus. (1 Tim. ii. 5.) Though he reigns, he only reigns in subordination to that great being who put all things under his feet, and to whom he must at length resign his delegated authority, that God, the only living and true `God, even the Father, may be all in all. 1 Cor. xv.


"In agreement with this, and with no other idea concerning Christ, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of our Lord, as being, in all respects, like unto his brethren; and he is elsewhere styled our elder brother. In agreement with this, we also read, that as by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 1 Cor. xv. 21.

"Our Saviour, therefore, differs from us, not with respect to his proper nature, but only in the great perfection of his character, and in divine communications. Agreeably to which, he himself expressly disclaims all power originating with himself; saying that the words which he spake were not his own, but the Father's that sent him, and that it was the Father within him that did the works, (John xiv. 10.) that is, the miracles which he wrought. Now what truth. could there have been in this, if he had done these things by any proper divinity, or indeed any extraordinary power of his own, independent of that of his Father.

"After the worship of Christ, the worship of his virgin mother was a very easy consequence; and then so wide a breach being once made, in the doctrine of the divine unity, there entered an innumerable host of men and angels, and in times of ignorance and su


« PreviousContinue »