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SUNBURY, IN MIDDLESEX.
MADAM, Your known zeal for the cause in the defence of which this work is composed, is my motive for prefixing your name to it. It is a great and important question that is now in agitation, and it is but justice that posterity should, if possible, be made acquainted with the names of those zealous advocates of truth, whose exertions, though not in the character of writers, have yet, in various other ways, contributed to its successful spread. In this honourable class I know of few names that are entitled to stand before that of Mrs. Rayner.
Such is our social nature, that those who are actuated by the purest love of truth, and whose views are the most single, feel, and therefore, in some degree, want the addi. tional motive which arises from the concurrence of others, in a cause in which the world in general is against them. But a very few, united in a love of truth, of the importance of which they are deeply sensible, will easily bear up against any combination. Numbers, power, wealth, long establish. ment, fashion, interest, and every other advantage on the side of error, inspire no fear or distrust, but rather give courage to the small band that fight under the banners of truth and right. The contest itself is glorious, and their confidence of final success makes them easy, and even joyful, under all opposition.
Believing, as I am persuaded that you, Madam, as well as myself, do, that a wise Providence superintends all events, guiding the thoughts and pursuits of every indi
• See Dr. Priestley's own Mem. on his “ leaving Lord Shelburn;" and Mem. of Lindsey, pp. 119-121, 156, 359. Mrs. Rayner died at Clapham io 1800, in her 87th year. See Gent. May. LXX. p. 907.
vidual to the most proper object, and in the most proper time, we rejoice in seeing every question of great moment, and especially those relating to theology, become the subject of interesting discussion ; well knowing that it is a prelude to the enlargement of the minds of men, the detection of error, and the propagation of truth, with which the wellbeing of mankind, here and hereafter, is always, more or less, counected.
You, Madam, have sufficiently shewn a mind superior to every thing that this world can hold out in opposition to the claims of reason and conscience; and the knowledge that I have of your enlarged views, and your noble intrepidity in following truth wherever you apprehend it to lead you, and in overlooking all obstacles that would oppose right conduct, will always, I hope, increase my own zeal and firmwess in the same cause. Such examples are ever present to my mind; and it is impossible that they should be contemplated without some beneficial influence.
Society, like yours, and that of our common and excel. lent friend Mr. Lindsey, (without, however, excluding many others who think differently from us with respect to the object of this work, but whose christian spirit I revere, and, I hope, emulate,) is one chief source of my happiness here. And I have no greater wish than to rejoin such friends hereafter, and share in their pursuits in a future world, as I have done in the present; not doubting but that we shall find proper objects for the exercise of that ardent love of truth, and that real and activity in promoting it, (as well as for the principles of piety and benevolence in general,) which have been formed here.
Wishing that your sun may set with serenity, in the pleasing prospect of the successful spread of that truth which it has been your great wish to promote, and of that future happy world, in which truth and virtue will reign triumphant, I am, with the truest respect,
Birmingham, May, 1786.
The History of the Corruptions of Christianity I wrote as a sequel to my Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, and therefore chiefly for the use of the unlearned, who might wish to know in what manner, and from what causes, such doctrines as those of the Trinity, Atonement, Original Sin, &c, arose, and got so firm an establishment in the creeds of so many persons professing Christianity, with the genuine principles of which they are totally discordant. That work having engaged me in a controversy
* with respect to the first article of it, viz. the History of Opinions concerning Christ, I have been led to give more particular attention to the subject; and this has produced the materials for the work which I now present to the public, and especially to the learned, to whom it is more particularly addressed; though, I hope, that the greatest part of it will be sufficiently intelligible to readers of good sense, who may not have had the advantage of a scholastic education.
In composing this work, I can truly say that I have spared neither time, labour nor expense. When I formed the design of it, I was determined to do it from original writers, without even looking into any modern author whatever. I therefore perused all the books of which a catalogue will be given at the close of the work (which are all that I could purchase, or conveniently borrow), with as much care as I thought the nature of each required, having only one object in view ; and I did not knowingly overlook any passage that promised to throw light upon the subject.
Having collected and arranged these materials, furnished by those original authors, I applied myself to the reading of all the modern writers of any reputation for learning in ecclesiastical history, whether their opinions were the same with
See the Replies to the Monthly Reviewer and to Dr. Horsley.
mine, or not. But the addition that I made to my own collection of authorities by this means amounted to very little, not more than about twenty or thirty, and those, in general, of no great consequence.
What more I could have done I cannot tell. By delaying the publication a year or two longer, and revising the work again and again, I might, no doubt, have made it more complete, especially as a composition. But with me this is no object at all; and the improvement that I might have made in the work in other respects would not, I think, have been very material.
With great tranquillity and satisfaction, therefore, I now commit this History to my friends, and to my enemies; sufficiently aware that it is not without its defects to exercise the candour of the former, and the captiousness of the latter. But no work of this extent, and of this nature, can be expected to be perfect. I have myself discovered great mistakes and oversights in those who have gone before me; and not. withstanding all my care, I shall not be surprised if those who come after me, especially if they walk over the same ground more leisurely than I have done, should find some things to correct in me. To make this as easy as possible, I have printed my authorities at full length. But I am confident, that all my oversights will not invalidate any position of consequence in the whole work; and this is all that the real inquirer after truth will be solicitous about.
On no former occasion have I declined, but on the contrary I have rather courted, and provoked, opposition, because I am sensible it is the only method of discovering truth ; and I am far from wishing that this work may escape the most rigorous examination. It will enable me to correct any future editions of it, and make it more perfect than it is possible for me to make it at present. I hope also that the controversy will be continued by men of learning, though I may now think myself excused from taking any part in it. But with respect to this, I do not pretend to have any fixed determination. Every writer who wishes not to mislead the public, is answerable for what he lays before them. At their bar he is always standing, and should hold himself ready to answer any important question, when it is properly put to him.
This I shall have a good opportunity of doing in the Theological Repository, which I have revived, and which is published occasionally; and, to repeat what I said on a former occasion, " If any person will give his name, and propose any difficulty whatever relating to the subject of this Work, so that I shall see reason to think that it proceeds from a love of truth, I here promise that I will speak fully to it, and I shall be as explicit as I possibly can.” * Notwithstanding the pains that have been taken to exhibit me to the public as an unfair and disingenuous writer, I trust that with many, at least, I have some character to lose ; or if so much has been taken away that I have but little left, it may be presumed that I shall be the more careful of it on that account.
It was my earnest wish to have had the advantage of a public discussion of the subject of this work by a learned Arian, before I had proceeded to the composition of it. I solicited for such an opponent both publicly and privately, but without success; which I think is much to be regretted. In lieu of this, I have collected the ideas of the Arians in a more private way, and have myself endeavoured to suggest all that I possibly could in support of their opinion. It will be seen that I have given particular attention to their doctrine through the whole course of the work; and I must say that, I find no evidence of its existence before the time of Arius. If I have proved this, the hypothesis must be abandoned. For no person can long satisfy himself with saying, it is sufficient for him if he find his opinion in the Scriptures, and that he will not trouble himself about that of others, however near to the time of the apostles. For it will be an unanswerable. argument, à priori, against any particular doctrine being contained in the Scriptures, that it was never understood to be so by those persons for whose immediate use the Scriptures were written, and who must have been much better qualified to understand them, in that respect at least, than we can pretend to be at this day.
My Arian friends, I am well aware, will think that, in this, as well as in a great part of the work, I bear peculiarly hard upon them; and I frankly acknowledge it. I thin's theirs to be an hypothesis equally destitute of support in the Scriptures, in reason, and in history. There is, I even think, less colour for it than for the Trinitarian doctrine as it stood before the Council of Nice. For afterwards, it became a perfect contradiction, undeserving of any discussion.
It would give me much pain to offend my Arian friends, as I fear I shall do in this work ; because for many of them I have a great esteem, for some of them as great as I have
* Soe Letters to Horsley, Ft. ii. Prefuce.