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Scripture is the word of God, and that unless human reason be miraculously illuminated, it must consider the Scriptures as of human origin. Now, this is utterly inconsistent with the attributes of God, and with the idea of a revelation. How can it be conceived, or imagined, that a Just and Merciful God could issue to his creatures, writings about the origin of which they could doubt? How could such a Being first create doubt, and then punish it? How could he leave His work unfinished ; and how could he be Just to some, by sending his spirit to enlighten them, and Unjust to others by withholding it? All this is involved in the answer, which is totally unfit for young minds, and rather weak for such as are mature and sound. -Dogmatism is the essence of Popery, Fanaticism and Bigotry, three sisters whose affection for each other seems to be now reviving, and disposing them to unite in establishing a Spiritual tyranny; but the yoke of which will be burst asunder by pure and rational Christianity.
The fifth question is, “What do the Scriptures principally teach ?” The answer is, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man." It
may be fairly supposed from the use of the word principally, that the Scriptures teach something else. We conceive that, in a religious view, man requires no other instruction than what may give him just notions of the Creator, and such notions are easily acquired, and perhaps more impressively, from the study of God's works; and, morally speaking, any just man, who takes the trouble to appeal to his own moral feelings, will perceive that their dictates are perfectly consistent with the morality taught by Jesus.
We now come to the exhibition, by the Divines, of what they affirmed Man ought to believe concerning God.
“What do the Scriptures make known of God? The persons in the Godhead, His decrees, and the execution of His decrees.” “What is God? God is a Spirit, in and of Himself, infinite in Being, Glory, Blessedness and Perfection, all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”
“ Are there more Gods than One? There is but One only, the living and true God.” Here it would have been good to have stopped, but the love of mystery, and of power over the consciences of men, prevail, and into the doctrine of the Trinity we are dragged. Well may it be said that God is incomprehensible when He is divided into three, and said to be one. It is a most extraordinary fact, that the Romanists, and the Episcopalian Churches of England and Scotland, both choose the middle Person of their Trinity as the greatest, and do him most honour in their forms of worship, though Jesus declared that his Father was greater than himself. There is much Popery in bowing at the name of Jesus, and standing stock still at the name of his Father. Nay, it is becoming the fashion of the Episcopalian Clergy, when reading the creeds, to turn towards the altar, and to bow as if Jesus were present there. The Scotch Episcopalian Bishops have recently styled themselves the Reformed Catholic Church. Their Clergy, though some have protested against this name, seem slyly to be combining Popery and Calvinism, the two worst forms of religion ever thought of. The character given of God ought to have prevented the
Divines from supposing that He could leave any thing in a state to be doubted by rational beings whom He created. Priests know very well, that were men to be fully and freely educated, there would be no use for their help to believe in God and in the Mission of Jesus. We want Educators, who know the nature of man and his wants; and Preachers to conduct worship, who can speak what is true, without help from doctrine.
We now come to questions respecting God's Eternal Decree, as it is called, of which enough has been said in No. 1. The Doctrine of Original Sin may, by some, be considered in a degree independent of the question respecting the doctrine of human corruption. We shall examine what is said in the Catechism of man's estate when created, the Fall, and its consequences, in a future Number.
ART. V.-ON THE ORIGIN OF THE NEW SECT IN
THIS COUNTRY, CALLED “CHRISTIANS.”
That the best man is the best prophet, has now almost
grown into an axiom, confirmed as the truth of the sentiment has become by an almost daily experience; for by the increased facilities for the exercise of individual influence there are many noble-minded men, who live to see the visions of youth transformed into the realities of age.
This animating doctrine is, however, equally true, if we grasp at a reformation which demands more time than the Life of the Prophet for its realization, and it is particularly interesting to look back and see how far our present state realizes the hopes that have been entertained respecting it. We were lately particularly struck in reading Priestley's “ Reflections on the Present State of Free Inquiry in this Country," November 5, 1785, with the concluding observations:
“ The great articles which are now in a course of discussion, will not be determined in our time. But if we exert ourselves, this work may be accomplished in the time of our children or grandchildren; and surely if we have any elevation or comprehension of mind, we may look forward to, and actually enjoy the happiness we procure for them. We scruple not to plant trees for the benefit of posterity. Let us likewise sow the seeds of truth for them, and anticipate the acknowledgments they will make us on that account.
• I do not write this from a persuasion that everything that I have myself contended for is indisputably true. On the contrary I have for the sake of discussion hazarded many things, and shall probably hazard many more; and I have actually changed many opinions, theological as well as philosophical, which I have advanced since I was a writer. But if men make use of their faculties at all, especially in that period which is most favourable to enquiry (which is about the middle time of life), they may arrive at so much certainty as will justify them in expressing a considerable degree of confidence, at least with respect to those subjects to which they have given the closest attention.
“ I do profess to have this confidence in my opinion concerning the doctrine of the Trinity ; I do not think the doctrine of Transubstantiation more manifestly absurd, and this is by much the less mischievous of the two. Not that I think there are no wise and good men who are advocates for the doctrine of the Trinity—I acknowledge there are. But there are likewise many persons, of whose ability and integrity also I think very highly, who are advocates the doctrine of Transubstantiation : and as there were learned Pagans five centuries after the promulgation of Christianity, there may be some respectable believers
in the doctrines of the Trinity and of Transubstantiation some ages hence.”
America seems to justify the hopes of Priestley. Not only has the number of avowedly Unitarian Churches very much increased, but more than a thousand Unitarian Societies, under the denomination of “Christian," have sprung up. Besides, 40,000 of the Society of Friends have embraced Unitarianism, while the Universalists, five hundred congregations, also maintain Unitarian opinions. Perhaps, however, the most extraordinary accomplishment is found in the case of the Campbellites, who, though orthodox in their general doctrines, and even attaching supreme importance to the ordinance of baptism, yet refuse to state at all times whether they are or are not Trinitarians, because, as the Trinity is not a scriptural word, they consider that as Christians they have no concern with it, for they have no wish to involve themselves in the maze of worldly philosophy.
A similar state of feeling has begun to manifest itself in this country; a number of congregations, chiefly seceders from the Methodists, have adopted the name of Christians only, and have made rapid strides towards introducing a more Catholic spirit into their churches. They own no creed or system of rules but the New Testament.” “They wish to be as orthodox in doctrine, and as strict in discipline, as Christ and his Apostles; more orthodox or strict they have no desire to be.”* There is every reason to believe that they cordially concur in the following sentiments of their Founder, Joseph Barker, expressed in No. IX. Vol. 2. of the Evangelical Reformer.
“I think it best in language as well as in doctrine, to follow the great Apostle, and know nothing but Jesus Christ. Hence I never use the word • Trinity,' and I never apply to God the word 'Person' and 'Persons.' And though I believe the Holy Spirit is God, as I believe that Christ is God, yet I dare not apply to them, without good and sufficient reason, any names of man's invention. I dare not speak unadvisedly on such matters; and my conscience obliges me to keep close to the manner of the Saviour and his holy and inspired Apostles. All that I know of God, I learned from Scripture language, and all I have to teach, I can teach in Scripture language."
But this adherence to the plain language of Scripture has produced not merely a change in expression, but a very great modification of many orthodox views. Take, for instance, the
* See Address on laying the Foundation Stone of the Chapel at Bradford, by Joseph Barker.
following summary on the doctrine of the “Depravity of Man."
“1. Though men without the truth and spirit of God could be nothing but earthly, devilish, and sensual, I do not believe that any are left without the truth and spirit of God. 2. Though 'foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,' the rod of correction may drive it far from him. 3. Though the seeds of sin are sown in our nature, I believe that by the Spirit of God the seeds of holiness are sown there also. 4. If men sin, I do not attribute their sin to any irresistible influence of the principle of evil in their nature, but to the neglect of men to improve the principles of holiness implanted in them. 5. I know of no evils entailed on us by the first Adam, which are not overbalanced by opposite and greater blessings bestowed upon us by the second Adam, Jesus Christ. 6. I do not believe that any man is to be blamed for being born with a nature prone to evil, but only for not using the grace of God to master his propensities to evil. 7. I do not believe that Adam's sin is imputed to us, or that we come into the world under any guilt whatever. 8. I am not aware that Scripture calls us to repent of Adam's sin, but only of our own sin. 9. I do not believe that we have any reason to be dissatisfied on account of the principles of evil which we bring with us into the world; since God bestows upon us heavenly influences in proportion to the strength of those principles of evil. Nay, I believe that if we are faithful to the grace God has bestowed through Jesus Christ, our conflicts will be the occasion of greater happiness than we could otherwise have enjoyed. 10. I believe, therefore, not only that God does not act unjustly, or any way unkindly in suffering us to come into the world with such natures as we have, but that, on the contrary, he acts towards us in this respect with the greatest possible kindness. And I believe that it is better for us to be left to cultivate the ground and clear it from thorns and thistles, than it would be if God should at once remove the curse by his own power ; so do I believe that it is better for us to be left to combat and conquer our own rebellious natures by the assistance of God's truth and spirit than it would be if God should change our natures by his own power, and leave us free from conflict."--Evangelical Reformer, Vol. II. No. 12.
The following passage in the preceding number of the same work is still more decidedly opposed to ordinary methodistical notions. It occurs in the essay on the Holy Spirit.
“ God's spirit is given in answer to sincere and persevering prayer, and is retained by steady obedience to God's will. No man has God's spirit who is unlike Christ, though God's spirit may strive with such persons. All talk about the direct witness, the immediate influence, the irresistible workings of the spirit on man's soul, is only man's talk, for God speaks about no such things. The manner of the Spirit's operations is said by Christ to be a secret. • The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh,