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lievers who are much advanced in life, than of younger persons ; and that, because he despairs of the principles of Christianity bay. ing much effect upon the lives of those whose dispositions and habits are already formed."'* Sometimes he reckons that the great body of primitive Christians must have been well-disposed with respect to moral virtue, even before their conversion to Christianity ; else," he thinks, “they could not have been so ready to have abandoned their vices, and to embrace a doctrine which required the strictest purity and rectitude of conduct, and even to sacrifice their lives in the cause of truth.”+ In his treatise on Philosophical Necessity, f he declares, that, “ upon the principles of the Necessarian, all late repentance, and especially after long and confirmed habits of vice, is altogether and necessarily ineffectual; there not being sufficient time left to produce a change of disposition and character, which can only be done by a change of conduct, and of proportionally long continuance.”
I confess, I do not perceive the consistency of these passages with each other. By the power of novelty a wonderful change was produced in the lives and manners of men; and yet the body of them must have been well-disposed with respect to moral virtue: that is, they must have been in such a state as not to need any wonderful change ; else they could not have been so ready to abandon their vices. A wonderful change was produced in the lives and manners of men of all ages ; and yet there is a certain age in which repentance is “altogether and necessarily ineffectual.” Inconsistent, however, as these positions may be, one thing is sufficiently evident; namely, That the author considers
* Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part II Preface. It is true, Dr. Priestley is not here speaking of the proftigates among nominal Christians, but of those among avowed ofidels. This, however, makes nothing to the argument. The dispositions and habits of profane nominal Christians are as much formed, as those of avowed Infidels; and their conversion to a holy life is as much an object of despair, as the other. Yes, Dr. Priestley in the same place acknowledges, that “ to be mere nominal Christians is worse than to be no Christians at all."
† Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part II. pp. 167, 168.
the conversion of profligates, of the present age; as an object of despair. Whatever the Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, may affirm, that, according to Dr. Priestley, affords but very little, if any, hope to those who in scripture are distinguished by the name of sinners, chief of sinners, and lost. He does “ not expect such conversion of profligate and habitually-wicked men, as shall make any remarkable change in their lives and characters. Their dispositions and babits are already formed, so that it can hardly be supposed to be in the power of new and better principles to change them.” It cannot be unnatural, or uncandid, to suppose that these observations were made from experience ; or that Dr. Priestley writes in this manner on account of his not being used to see any such effects arise from his ministry, or the ministry of those of his sentiments.
There is a sort of preaching, however, even since the days of inspiration, and where Christianity has ceased to be a novelty, which has been attended in a good degree, with similar effects to that of the apostles. Whatever was the cause, or however it is to be accounted for, there have been those whose labours have turned many, yea, many profligates, to righteousness; and that by preaching the very doctrines wbich Dr. Priestley charges with being the “ corruptions of Christianity;" and which a once-humble admirer of his attempted to ridicule.* It is well known what sort of preaching it was that produced such great effects in many nations of Europe, about the time of the Reformation. Whatever different sentiments were professed by the Reformers, I suppose they were so far agreed, that the doctrines of human depravity, the deity and atonement of Christ, justification by faith, and sanctification by the influence of the Holy Spirit, were the great topics of their ministry.
Since the Reformation there have been special seasons in the churches, in which a religious concern has greatly prevailed, and multitudes were turned from their evil ways: some, from an open course of profaneness ; and others, from the mere form of godliness to the power of it. Much of this sort of success attended the labours of Perkins, Bolton, Taylor, Herbert, Hildersham, Blackerby, Gauge, Whitaker, Bunyan, great numbers of the ejected mipisters, and many, since their time, in England ;»of. Livingstone, Bruce, Rutherford, M'Cullock, M’Laurin, Robe, Bal. four, Sutherland, and others, in Scotland; of Franck and his fellow labourers, in Germany; and of Stoddard, Edwards, Tennant, Buel, and many others in America.* And what Dr. Watts and Dr.Guyse said of the success of Mr. Edwards and some others, in America, might with equal truth have been said of the rest: 6. That it was the common plain Protestant doctrine of the Reformation, without stretching towards the Antinomians on the one side, or the Arminians on the other, that the Spirit of God had been pleased to honour with such illustrious success.
* See Familiar Letters, Letter XXII. P.S.
Nor are such effects peculiar to past ages. A considerable degree of the same kind of success has attended the Calvinistic churches in North America, within the last ten years ; especially in the States of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Nor is it peculiar to the Western world, though they have been greatly favoured. I believe there are hundreds of ministers now in this kingdom, some in the Established Church, and some out of it, who could truly say to a considerable number of their auditors, as Paul said to the Corinthians, Ye are our epistle, known and read of all men-ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. There are, likewise, hundreds of congregations which might with propriety, be addressed in the language of the same Apostle to the same people, And such were some of you; (namely, fornicators, adulterers, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners,) but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified. And those ministers by whose instrumentality these effects were produced, like their predecessors before-mentioned, have dwelt principally on the Protestant doctrines, of man's lost condition by nature, and salvation by
* See Gillies' Historical Collections.
† Preface to Mr. Edwards' Narrative,
# See Rippon's Baptist Register, for 1790, Parts I, II.
grace only, through the atoning blood of Christ; together with the necessity of the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. When therefore, they see such effects attend their labours, they think themselves warranted to ascribe them, as the Apostle did, to the name of the Lord Jesus, and to the Spirit of our God."*
The solid and valuable effects produced by this kind of preaching are attested by the late Mr. Robinson of Cambridge, as well as by Dr. Watts and Dr. Guyse. “Presumption and despair," said that ingenious writer, "are the two dangerous extremes to which mankind are prone in religious concerns. Charging home sin precludes the first, proclaiming redemption prevents the last. This has been the method which the Holy Spirit has thought fit to seal and succeed in the hands of his ministers. Wickliffe, Luther, Knox, Latimer, Gilpin, Bunyan, Livingstone, Franck, Blair, Elliot, Edwards, Whitefield, Tennant, and all who have been eminently blessed to the revival of practical godliness, have constantly availed themselves of this method ; and, prejudice apart, it is impossible to deny, that great and excellent moral effects have followed.”+
Should it be alleged, that Mr. Robinson, before he died, changed his opinions in these matters, and reckoned all such things as these enthusiain ; it might be answered, A change of opinion in Mr. Robinson can make no change in the “ facts," as he justly calls them, which he did himself the honour to record. Besides, the effects of this kind of preaching are not only recorded by Mr. Robinson, but by those who triumph in his conversion to their principles. Dr. Priestley professes to think highly of the Methodists, and acknowledges that they have "civilized and Christian. ized a great part of the uncivilized and unchristianized part of this country."| Also, in his Discourses on Various Subjects, he allows their preaching to produce “ more striking effects" than that of Socinians, and goes about to account for it. $
* 2 Cor. iii. 2, 3.
1 Cor. vi, 12.
+ Translation of Claude, Vol. II. p. 364, Note.
Familiar Letters, Letter VII.
& Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 375.
A matter of fact, so notorious as this, and of so much consequence in the controvesy, requires to be well accounted for. Dr. Priestley seems to have felt the force of tbe objection that might be made to his principles on this ground; and therefore attempts to obviate it. But by what medium is this attempted ? The same principle by which he tries to account for the wonderful success of the gospel in the primitive ages, is to account for the effects produced by such preaching as that of the Methodists ; The ignorance of their auditors giving what they say to them the force of
The Doctor is pleased to add, “ Our people having in general been brought up in habits of virtue, such great changes in character and conduct are less necessary in their case.'
A few remarks in reply to the above shall close this Letter. First, If novelty be indeed that efficacious principle which Dr. Priestley makes it to be, one should think it were desirable, every century or two, at least, to have a new dispensation of religion.
Secondly, If the great success of the primitive preachers was owing to this curious cause, is it not extraordinary, that they themselves should never be acquainted with it, nor communicate a secret of such importance to their successors? They are not only silent about it, but in some cases, appear to act upon a contrary principle. Paul, when avowing the subject matter of his ministry before Agrippa, seemed to disclaim every thing novel; declaring, that he had said none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did
And as to the cause of their success, they seem never to have thought of any thing but the hand of the Lord that was with them— The working of his mighty power Who caused them to triumph in Christ, making manifest the savour of his knowledge by them in every place.
Thirdly, If novelty he what Dr. Priestley makes it to be, the plea of Dives had much more of truth in it than the answer of Abraham. He pleaded, that if one rose from the dead, men would repent : the novelty of the thing, he supposed, must strike them. But Abraham answered, as if he had no notion of the pow
* Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 376.
† Acts xii. 21. Ephes. i. 19. 2 Cor. ii. 14.