[ocr errors]

main ground on which Calvinists are censured will be removed ; and the candour for which their opponents plead must appear to be spurious, and foreign to the genuine spirit of Christianity.

Candour and benevolence, as Christian virtues, must also consist with each other; but the candour of Socinians is destructive of benevolence, as exemplified in the scriptures. Benevolence in Christ and his apostles, extended not merely, nor mainly, to the bodies of men, but to their souls ; nor did they think so favourably of mankind as to desist from warning and alarming them, but the reverse. They viewed the whole world as lying in wickedness; in a perishing condition ; and hazarded the loss of every earthly enjoyment to rescue them from it, as from the jaws of destruction. But it is easy to perceive, that in proportion to the influence of Socinian candour upon us, we shall consider mankind, even the Heathens, as a race of virtuous beings, all worshipping the great Father of creation, only in different modes. Our concern for their salvation will consequently abate, and we shall become so indifferent respecting it, as never to take any considerable pains for their conversion. This, indeed, is the very truth with regard to Socinians. They discover, in general, no manner of concern for the salvation of either Heathens abroad or profligates at home. Their candour supplies the place of this species of benevolence, and not_unfrequently excites a scornful smile at the conduct of those who exercise it.

The difference between our circumstances and those of Christ and his apostles, who were divinely inspired, however much it ought to deter us from passing judgment upon the hearts of individuals, ought not to make us think that every mode of worship is equally safe, or that religious principle is indifferent as to the affairs of salvation ; for this would be to consider as false, what by divine inspiration, they taught as true.

Let us come to matters of fact. Mr. Belsham does not deny that Calvinists may be " pious, candid, and benevolent ;" but he thinks they would have been more so if they had been Socinians.

They, and there are many such,” says he, “who are sincerely pious, and diffusively benevolent with these principles, could not have failed to have been much better, and much happier, had

they adopted a milder, a more rational, a more truly evangelical creed."* Now, if this be indeed the case, one might expect, that the most perfect examples of these virtues are not to be looked for among us, but among our opponents : and yet it may be questioned, whether they will pretend to more perfect examples of piety, candour, or benevolence, than are to be found in the characters of a Hale, a FRANCK, a BRAINERD, an Edwards, a WHITEFIELD, a THORNTON, and a HOWARD, (to say nothing of the living) whose lives were spent in doing good to the souls and bodies of men ; and who lived and died, depending on the atoning blood and justifying righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. The last of these great men, in whom his country glories, and who is justly considered as the martyr of humanity, is said thus to have expressed himself, at the close of his last will and testament: My immortal spirit, I cast on the sovereign mercy of God, through Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of my strength, and, I trust, is become my salvation.” He is said also to have given orders for a plain, neat stone to be placed upon his grave, with this inscription, Spes mea Christus : Christ IS MY HOPE !

We are often reminded of the persecuting spirit of 'Trinitarians, and particularly of Calvin towards Servetus. This example has been long held up by our opponents, not only as a proof of his cruel disposition, and odious character, but as if it were sufficient to determine what must be the turn and spirit of Calvinists in general. But, supposing the case to which they appeal were allowed to prove the cruelty of Calvin's disposition; nay, that he was, on the whole, a wicked man, destitute both of religion and humanity; what would all this prove as to the tendency of the system that happened to be called after his name, but which is allowed to have existed long before he was born ? We regard what no man did or taught, as oracular, unless he could prove himself divinely inspired, to which Calvin never pretended. Far be from us to vindicate him, or any other man, in the business of persecution. We abhor every thing of the kind, as much as our opponents. Though the principles for which he contended appear to us, in the main, to be just ; yet the weapons of his warfare, in this instance, were carnal.

* Sermon on the Importance of Truth. p. 30.

It ought, however, to be acknowledged, on the other side, and, if our opponents possessed all the candour to which they pretend, they would, in this, as well as in other cases, acknowledge, that persecution for religious principles was not at that time peculiar to any party of Christians; but common to all, whenever they were invested with civil power. It was an error, and a detestable one ; but it was the error of the age. They looked upon heresy in the same light as we look upon those crimes which are inimical to the peace of civil society; and, accordingly, proceeded to punish heretics by the sword of the civil magistrate. If Socinians did rot persecute their adversaries so much as Trinitarians, it was because they were not equally invested with the power of doing 50. Mr. Lindsey acknowledges, that Faustus Socinus himself was not free from persecution, in the case of Francis Davides, superintendent of the Unitarian churches in Transylvania. Davides had disputed with Socinus on the invocation of Christ, and “died in prison, in consequence of his opinion, and some offence taken at his supposed indiscreet propagation of it from the pulpit. I wish I could say,” adds Mr. Lindsey, “ that Socinus, or his friend Blandrata, had done all in their power to prevent his commitment, or procure his release afterwards." The difference between Socinus and Davides was very slight. They both held Christ to be a mere man. The former, however, was for praying to him; which the latter, with much greater consistency, disapproved. Considering this, the persecution to which Socinus was accessary, was as great as that of Calvin ; and there is no reason to think, but that, if Davides had differed as much from Socinus as Servetus did from Calvin, and if the civil magistrates had been for burning him, Socinus would have concurred with them. To this might be added, that the conduct of Socinus was marked with disingenuity; in that he considered the opinion of Davides in no very heinous point of light; but was afraid of increasing the odium under which he and his party already lay, among other Christian churches.*

* Mr. Lindsey's Apology, pp. 153-156.

Mr. Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, has given an account of both these persecutions : but it is easy to perceive the prejudice under which he wrote. He evidently inclines to extenuate the conduct of Socinus, while he includes every possible cir. cumstance that can, in any manner, blacken the memory of Calvin. Whatever regard we may bear to the latter, I am persuaded we should not wish to extenuate his conduct in the persecution of Servetus ; or to represent it in softer terms, nor yet so soft, as Mr. Robinson has represented that of the former, in the persecution of Davides.

We do not accuse Socinianism of being a persecuting system, on account of this instance of misconduct in Socinus : nor is it any proof of the superior candour of our opponents, that they are continually acting the very reverse towards us. As a Baptist, I might indulge resentment against Cranmer, who caused some of that denomination to be burned alive : yet, I am inclined to think, from all that I have read of Cranmer, that, notwithstanding his conduct in those instances, he was, upon the whole, of an amiable disposition. Though he held with Pædobaptism, and in this manner defended it, yet I should never think of imputing a spirit of persecution to Pædobaptists in general ; or of charging their sentiment, in that particular, with being of a persecuting tendency. It was the opinion-tbat erroneous religious principles are punishable by the civil magistrate, that did the mischief, whether at Geneva, in Transylvania, or in Britain ; and to this, rather than to Trinitarianism, or to Unitarianism, it ought to be imputed.

We need not hold, with Mr. Lindsey, “ the innocence of error,'' in order to shun a spirit of persecution. Though we conceive of error, in many cases, as criminal in the sight of God, and as requiring admonition, yea, exclusion from a religious society ; yet, while we reject all ideas of its exposing a person to civil punishment, or inconvenience, we ought to be acquitted of the charge of persecution. Where the majority of a religious society consider the avowed principles of an individual of that society as being fundamentally erroneous, and inconsistent with the united worship and well-being of the whole ; it cannot be persecution to endeavour, by scriptural arguments, to convince him; and, if that cannot be accomplished, to exclude him from their communion.

It has been suggested, that to think the worse of a person on account of his sentiment, is a species of persecution, and indicates a spirit of bitterness at the bottom, which is inconsistent with that benevolence which is due to all mankind. But, if it be persecution to think the worse of a person, on account of his sentiments, (unless no man be better, or worse, whatever sentiments he imbibes, which very few will care to assert,) then it must be persecution for us to think of one another according to truth. It is also a species of persecution of which our opponents are guilty, as well as we, whenever they maintain the superior moral tendency of their own system. That which is adapted and intended to do good to the party, cannot be persecution, but genuine benevolence.Let us suppose a number of travellers, all proposing to journey to one place. A number of different ways present themselves to view, and each appears to be the right way. Some are inclined to one ; some, to another; and some contend that, whatever smaller difference there may be between them, they all lead to the same end. Others, however, are persuaded, that they do not terminate in the same end, and appeal to a correct map of the country, which points out a number of by-paths, resembling those in question, each leading to a fatal issue. Query, Would it be the part of benevolence, in this case, for the latter to keep silence, and hope the best ; or to state the evidence on which their apprehensions were founded, and to warn their fellow-travellers of their danger ?

There are, it is acknowledged, many instances of a want of candour and benevolence among us ; over which it becomes us to lament. This is the case, especially with those whom Dr. Priestley is pleased to call “ the only consistent absolute predestinarians.” I may add, there has been in my opinion, a great deal too much baughtiness and uncandidness discovered by some of the Trinitarians of the Estab. lished Church, in their controversies with Socinian Dissenters.-These dispositions, however, do not belong to them as Trinitarians, but as Churchmen. A slight observation of human nature will convince us, that the adherents to a religion established by

« 前へ次へ »