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that what is threatened against sin is of such a trilling account, that it needs not be an object of dread. " No Necessarian,” says he,"supposes that any of the human race will suffer eternally ; but that future punishments will answer the same purpose as temporal ones are found to do, all of which tend to good, and are evidently admitted for that purpose ; so that God, the author of all, is as much to be adored and loved for what we suffer as for what we enjoy, his intention being equally kind in both. And, since God has created us for happiness, what misery can we fear ? If we be really intended for ultimate happiness, it is no matter, to a truly resigned person, when, or where, or how."* Sin is so trifling an affair, it seems, and the punishment threatened against it of so little consequence, that we may be quite resigned and indifferent, whether we go immediately to heaven, or whether we first pass through the depths of Hell!
The question at present is not, which of these representations 'is true or consonant to scripture ? but, which has the greatest tendency to promote repentance ? If repentance be promoted by a view of the evil of sin, this question, it is presumed, may be considered as decided.
Another sentiment intimately connected with the evil of sin, and equally necessary to promote repentance, is, The equity and goodness of the divine law. No man ever truly repented for the breach of a law, the precepts of which he considered as too strict, or the penalties as too severe. In proportion as such an opinion prevails, it is impossible but that repentance must be precluded. Now, the precept of the divine law requires us to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. It allows not of any deviation or relaxation, during the whole of our existence. The penalty by which this holy law is enforced, is nothing less than the curse of Almighty God. But, according to Mr. Belsham, If God “mark and punish every instance of transgression,” he must be a “ merciless tyrant ;” and we must be “tempted to wish that the reins of universal government were in better hands." Mr. Belsham, perhaps, would not deny that perfect obedience is required by the law, according to the plain meaning of the words by which it is expressed, or that the curse of God is threatened, against every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them; but then this rule is so strict, that to "mark and punish every instance," of deviation from it, would be severe and cruel. It seems, then, that God has given us a law, by the terms of which he cannot abide ; that justice itself requires him, if not to abate the precept, yet to remit the penalty, and connive at smaller instances of transgression. I need not inquire how much this reflects upon the moral character and government of God. Suffice it at present to say, that such views must of necessity preclude repentance. If the law which forbids “every instance” of human folly, be unreasonably strict, and the penalty which threatens the curse of the Almighty on every one that continueth not in all things therein written, be indeed cruel; then it must so far be unreasonable for any sinner to be required to repent for the breach of it. On the contrary, God himself should rather repent for making such a law, than the sinner for breaking it!
** Pages 118. 122. 65. 149. 150. 128.
† Sermon, p. 34.
Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, is another essential part of true conversion. Faith is credence, or belief.
Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, is belief of the gospel of salvation through his
A real belief of the gospel is necessarily accompanied with a trust, or confidence in him for the salvation of our souls. The term believe itself sometimes expresses this idea : particularly in 2 Tim. i. 12. I know whom I have BELIEVED, and am persuaded that he is ABLE TO KEEP THAT WHICH I HAVE COMMITTED UNTO HIM against that day. This belief, or trust, can never be fairly understood of a mere confidence in his veracity, as to the truth of his doctrine ; for, if that were all, the ability of Christ would stand for nothing ; and we might as well be said to trust in Peter, or John, or Paul, as in Christ, seeing we believe their testimony to be valid as well as his. Believing, it is granted, does not necessarily, and in all cases, involve the idea of trust, for which l here contend; this matter being determined by the nature of the testimony. Neither Peter, nor any of the apostles, ever pretended that their blood, though it might be shed in martyrdom, would be the price of the salvation of sinners. We may, therefore, credit their testimony, without trusting in them, or committing any thing, as Paul expresses it, into their hands. But Cbrist's blood is testified of, as the way, and the only way, of salvation. He is said to be the propitiation for our sins, and by himself to have purged our sins Through his blood we have forgiveness—Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven givon among men whereby we must be saved-Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.* Hence it follows, that to believe his testimony, must of necessity involve in it a trusting in him for the salvation of our souls.
If this be a just representation of faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot be at a loss to decide which of the systems in question has the greatest tendency to promote it; and, as faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ is essential to true conversion, we cannot hesitate in concluding, which has the greatest tendency to turn a sinner from the evil of his ways. Not to mention, at present, how Socinian writers disown an“ implicit belief” in the testimony of the sacred writers, and how they lean to their own understanding, as the criterion by which scripture is to be tried; that which I would here insist upon is, That, upon their principles, all trust, or confidence, in Christ for salvation is utterly excluded. Not only are those principles unadapted to induce us to trust in Christ; but directly tend to turn off our attention and affection from him. Dr. Priestley does not appear to consider him as the way of a sinner's salvation, in any sense whatever, but goes about to explain the words of Peter, (Acts iv. 12.) Neither is there salvation in any other, &c. not of salvation to eternal life, but“ of salvation, or deliverance, from bodily diseases.”! And another writer of the same cast, (Dr. Harwood) in a Volume of Sermons lately published, treats the sacred writers with still less ceremony. Paul had said, Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ; but this writer, as if he designed to affront the Apostle, makes use of his own words in order to contradict him. • Other foundation
1 Cor. iii. 11
* John iv. 10. Heb. i. 3.
Ephes. i. 7.
Acts iv. 12. # Dr. Priestley's Defence of Unitarianism, for 1787, p. 66. # Familiar Letters, Let. XVI.
than this can no man lay;" says he,“ other expectations are visionary and groundless, and all hopes founded upon any thing else than a good moral life, are merely imaginary, and contrary to the whole tenor of the gospel."* Whether these things be not aimed to raise the foundation on which the church is built; and whether this be any other than stumbling at the stumbling-stone, and a setting him at naught, in the great affair for which he came into the world; let every Christian judge. It particularly deserves the serious consideration, not only of the above-writers, but of those who are any way inclined to their mode of thinking : for, if it should be so that the death of Christ, as a propitiatory sacrifice, is the only medium through which sinners can be accepted of Cod; and if they should be found fighting against God, and rejecting the only
of escape, the consequence may be such as to cause the ears of every one that heareth it to tingle. Mean-while, it requires but little penetration to discover, that whatever takes away the only foundation of a sinner's confidence, cannot be adapted to promote it.
Brethren, examine these matters to the bottom, and judge for yourselves, whether you might not as well expect grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, as to see repentance towards God, or faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, proceeding from Socinian principles.
The foregoing observations serve to show what may be expected from the Socinian's doctrine, according to the nature of things : let us next make some inquiry into matters of fact. We may judge, from the nature of the seed sown, what will be the harvest; but a view of what the harvest actually is, may afford still greater satisfaction.
First, then, Let it be considered whether Socinian congregations have ever abounded in conversions of the profane to a life of holiness and devotedness to God. Dr. Priestley acknowledges, that “the gospel, when it was first preached by the apostles, produced a wonderful change in the lives and manners of persons of all ages.”+ Now, if the doctrine which he and others preach be the same, for substance, as that which they preached, one might ex.
* Page 193.
+ Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Preface, p. ix.
pect to see some considerable degree of similarity in the effects. But is any thing like this to be seen in Socinian congregations ? Has that kind of preaching, which leaves out the doctrines of man's lost condition by nature, and salvation by grace only, through the atonement of Christ; and substitutes, in their place, the doctrine of mercy without an atonement, the simple humanity of Christ, the efficacy of repentance and obedience, sc. ..... Has this kind of preaching, I say, ever been known to lay much hold on the hearts and consciences of men ? The way in which that “wonderful change” was effected, in the lives and manners of people, which attended the first preaching of the gospel, was, by the word preached laying hold on their hearts. It was a distinguishing mark of primitive preaching, that it commended itself 10 every man's conscience. People could not in general sit unconcerned under it. We are told of some who were cut to the heart, and took council to slay the preachers; and of others who were pricked in the heart, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do? But, in both cases, the heart was the mark at which the preacher aimed, and which his doctrine actually reached. Has the preaching of the Socinians any such eflect as this ? Do they so much as expect it should ? Were any of their hearers, by any means, to feel pricked in their hearts, and come to them with the question, What shall we do? would they not pity them as enthusiasts, and be ready to suspect that they had been among the Calvinists? If any counsel were given, would it not be such as must tend to impede their repentance, rather than promote it; and, instead of directing them to Jesus Christ, as was the practice of the primitive preachers, would they not endeavour to lead them into another course ?
Socinian writers cannot so much as pretend that their doctrine has been used to convert profligate sinners to the love of God and holiness. Dr. Priestley's scheme will not enable him to account for such changes, where Christianity has ceased to be a novelty. The absolute novelty of the gospel when first preached, he represents as the cause of its wonderful efficacy; but in the present age, among persons who have long heard it, and have contracted vicious habits notwithstanding, he looks for no such effects. He confesses himself “less solicitous about the conversion of unbe