« PreviousContinue »
"should think, in propriety of language, be called inno"vations. Even as to religion, which, out of your deep "regard to it, you always place behind politics, let the designation you take to yourself testify where the suspicion of innovation will appear to lie: "a Presbyter," (you call yourself)" of the communion of the Church of England, as by law established, and Minister to the authorized Episcopal Congregation in Brechin." This "is pompous indeed, but is it not new? When or where, "in what records, in what part of the church, did you "ever find any thing like it? You were born and or"dained, you reside and officiate within Britain; yet you do not tell us (it would seem you cannot tell us) "what part of Britain, whether England or Scotland, you are a Presbyter of. Strangers indeed, (were any such to read your book) might, from your narration, imagine Brechin to be a part of the Church of England, "but natives will not be so imposed on. However, it "seems you have some connexion with Brechin. You "are Minister to the authorized Episcopal Congregation "there. What is an Episcopal Congregation, Sir? The "old notion (whether right or wrong) was, a congregation under a Bishop. If so, tell us (pray do), what Bishop your Brechin congregation is under; and who "authorized this Episcopal Congregation ?"
It was in this sharp and pointed manner that Mr Skinner began his refutation of the charge of novelty in their religious principles, brought against the Scotch Episcopal Clergy; and when he came to that part of his adversary's book, which represents certain practices or opinions of these clergy, under the contemptuous title of usages, as
innovations also, the absurdity of giving them this appellation was sufficiently exposed by barely remarking, "that "these very usages, so bitterly railed against by a pres. byter of the communion of the church of England, "were once the settled, uniform, authorised doctrine and ઃઃ practice of the church of England herself, and that too "after her reformation from popery." * Affecting, therefore, to stigmatize them as innovations, could proceed only from that deep rooted prejudice, which could dictate the following threat against the obnoxious usagers,
that, though sentence against an evil work is not exe"cuted in rigour at present, yet the time may possibly "be (if they do not timeously prevent it by returning to "their duty, as here plainly recommended to them) when "even a Protestant Administration may be provoked to inflict just and legal punishment upon those, whom "royal mercy and indulgence cannot reclaim." To such an awful warning, the reply was shortly this. "We do "lie at mercy indeed; but it is (next to the mercy of "Him whose mercies are over all his works) at the mer
cy of one who has, in many instances, already display"ed gracious manifestations of an indulgent heart, and "whose wisdom will always direct him when to punish,
and when to shew mercy, without consulting you, or "such as you, upon the subject. And if the inscrutable "will of heaven should at any time permit even a protes"tant
* See this point fully established, and other important matters connect. ed with it clearly illustrated, in a new edition of "The Office for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, according to the use of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, with a Preliminary Dissertation &c. by the Rev. John Skinner, A. M." grandson of the person whose life is here recorded.
"tant administration to lay the rod of affliction upon us, which, we flatter ourselves, your uncharacteristic "insinuations will never influence them to do, we can "rest ourselves upon the old consolatory observation of "the royal psalmist, It is better to trust in the Lord, "than to put any confidence in princes." With such pious sentiments as these did Mr Skinner wind up his little work in vindication of the Scotch Episcopal Clergy, which, had it got justice in the printing and correction of the press, * would probably have found its way into better company, than what from its outward appearance seemed to be fit for it, and thus have met with the approbation which it deserved, from the soundness of its reasoning, the singular humour displayed in its composition, and the forcible, poignant manner, in which its arguments are applied to the purpose intended by them.
Soon after the appearance of Mr Sievewright's silly pamphlet, a publication was announced of a very different character, Dr Beattie's celebrated "Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism." This proved to be a work of great popularity, and had the highest encomiums bestowed on it by many eminent writers. Mr Skinner was a man who on such occasions always thought for himself, and never allowed his opinion to be swayed by the fashion of the day, or his sentiments to be shaken by the torrent of popular applause. He saw, or thought he saw, in some parts of this ingenious, and on the whole, justly admired Essay,
* It was printed on a coarse paper, and in a very slovenly incorrect manner, by F. Douglas, then a Printer in Aberdeen."
such a weak, imperfect description of Truth, and such a precarious uncertain standard established for examining and judging of it, as the enemies of divine or revealed truth would gladly lay hold of, for covering their ignorance of it, and excusing their scepticism with regard to it. Impressed with these sentiments, he was at the pains to draw up two pretty long letters on the subject, addressed to a friend who wished to know his opinion of the manner, in which Dr Beattie had executed his very elaborate work on the "Nature and Immutability of Truth."
In the first of these letters, after making some apology for the boldness of his undertaking, the subject is thus introduced." I am indeed disappointed in not meeting with the satisfaction I was led to expect from the perusal of this much extolled "Essay on the Nature and Immu"tability of Truth." For does not the very title promise us something like a clear definition of "what is truth?" Yet the first thing we meet with, after the general division of his subject, and a few remarks on the standard of truth, is an investigation" of the perception of truth in general," which terminates in establishing this as the grand object of his research, that "Common Sense is the Standard of Truth. But ought not the nature of a thing to be first described, in a philosophical discussion, before we proceed to consider our perception of it, or the standard by which we are to examine it?— The word TRUTH carries along with it an idea so sacred and solemn, as might well have merited a little more attention than barely telling us, that " truth is that, which the constitution of our nature determines us to believe, and falsehood is that, which the constitution of our nature determines
mines us to disbelieve." Yet the Doctor soon after acknowledges, that "we often believe what we afterwards find to be false, but while belief continues, we think it true." Now I would ask, whether this be a description of truth? It may be what he calls it, "expressing his thoughts more shortly and more clearly," but I question much if it can be called instructing his readers, or clearing up to them the real nature of truth. If what I believe be truth only because, and as long as, I think it true; and, if it be supposable that my belief may alter, this makes truth to be liable to alteration, and not to be that " fixed, unchangeable, and eternal something," which he had told us before it seems to be thought by all mankind. I know he will not allow this consequence, but his way of accounting for truth seems to lead to it. And if this be all that he means by making common sense the standard of truth, I hardly think, that any person ever did, or ever will dispute with him about it. Nature determines us to believe thing as true, and to disbelieve a thing as false. But it does not therefore follow that what we believe is truth, and what we disbelieve is falschood. If truth have a real existence, it does not depend on the constitution of our nature, nor on our perception of it. An attachment to truth may be in our nature, but we may be mistaken in the object of that attachment. The reality subsists in, and of itself; and it is the constitution of our nature to seek after it, if possibly we may find it. Yet our au thor's laying it down as certain, that common sense is the standard of truth, and his argumentations, both in proof and in consequence of this proposition, will, I suspect, be considered by many, as tending to lessen the real intrin sic value of truth, by bringing it down to the level of