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THE ARGUMENT, FROM THE NUMBER OF CONVERTS TO SOCINIANISM, EXAMINED.
IF facts be admitted as evidence, perhaps it will appear that Socinianism is not so much adapted to make converts of Jews, Heathens, Mahometans, or Philosophical Unbelievers, as of a speculating sort of people among professing Christians. These in our own country are found, some in the Established Church, and some among the Dissenters. Among people of this description, I suppose, Socinianism has gained considerable ground. Of this, Dr. Priestley, and others of his party are frequently making their boast. But whether they have any cause for boasting, even in this case may be justly doubted.
In the first place let it be considered, that, though Socinianism may gain ground among speculating individuals, yet the congregations where that system, or what bears a near resemblance to it, is taught, are greatly upon the decline. There are, at this time, a great many places of worship in this kingdom, especially among the Presbyterians and the General Baptists, where the Socinian and Arian doctrines have been taught till the congregations are gradually dwindled away, and there are scarcely enough left to keep up the form of worship. There is nothing in either of these systems, comparatively speaking, that alarms the conscience, or interests the heart; and therefore the congregations where they are taught, unless kept up by the accidental popularity of a preacher or some other circumstance distinct from the doctrine delivered, generally fall into decay.
*Discourses on Various Subjects, pp. 93, 94,
But, farther let us examine a little more particularly, what sort of people, they, in general, are, who are converted to Socinianism. It is an object worthy of inquiry, whether they appear to be modest, humble, serious Christians, such as have known the plague of their own hearts; such in whom tribulation hath wrought patience, and patience experience; such who know wнoм they have believed and who have learned to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord; such who, in their investigation of sentiments, have been used to mingle earnest and humble prayer with patient and impartial inquiry; such, in fine, who have become as little children in their own eyes? If, they be, it is a circumstance of consequence, not sufficient, indeed to justify their change of sentiments, but to render that change an object of attention. When persons of this description embrace a set of new principles, it becomes a matter of serious consideration, what could induce them to do so. But if they be not, their case deserves but little regard. When the body of converts to a system are mere speculatists in religion, men of little or no seriousness, and who pay no manner of attention to vital and practical religion, it reflects neither honour on the cause they have espoused, nor dishonour on that which they have rejected. When we see persons of this stamp go over to the Socinian standard, it does not at all surprise us on the contrary, we are ready to say, as the Apostle said of the defection of some of the professors of Christianity in his day, They went out from us, but they were not of us.
That many of the Socinian converts were previously men of no serious religion, needs no other proof than the acknowledgment of Dr. Priestley, and of Mr. Belsham. "It cannot be denied," says the former, "that many of those who judge so truly concerning particnlar tenets in religion, have attained to that cool and unbiassed temper of mind in consequence of becoming more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it." And this indifference to allreligion is considered by Dr. Priestley as "favourable to a distinguishing between truth and falsehood."* Much to the same purpose is what Mr. Belsham alleges, as quoted before, that "Men who are most indifferent to the practice of religion, and whose
*Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 65.
minds, therefore are least attached to any set of principles, will ever be the first to see the absurdity of a popular superstition, and to em. brace a rational system of faith."* It is easy to see, one should think from hence, what sort of characters those are, which compose the body of Socinian converts.
Dr. Priestley, however, considers this circumstance as reflecting no dishonour upon his principles. He thinks he has fully accounted for it. So thinks Mr. Belsham; and so think the Monthley Reviewers, in their Review of Mr. Belsham's Sermon.†
Surely Socinians must be wretchedly driven, or they would not have recourse to such a refuge as that of acknowledging that they hold a gospel, the best preparative for which is a being destitute of all religion! "What a reflection is here implied," says Dr. Williams, " on the most eminent reformers of every age, who were the first to see the absurdities of a popular superstition, and the falsity of reigning principles! What a poor compliment to the religious character of Unitarian reformers! According to this account, one might be tempted to ask, Was it by being indifferent to the
* Sermon on the Importance of Truth, p. 32.
+ I have not scrupled to class the Monthly Reviewers among Socinians. Although in a work of that kind there be frequently, no doubt, a change of hands; yet it is easy to see, that, of late years, (a very short interval exceped,) it has been principally, if not entirely, under Socinian direction; and, so far as relgion is concerned, has been used as an instrument for the propagation of that system. Impartiality towards Calvinistic writers is not, therefore, to be expected from that quarter. It is true, they sometimes affect to stand aloof from all parties: but it is mere affectation. Nothing can be more absurd than to expect them to judge impartially in a cause wherein they themselves are parties: absurd, however as it is, some persons are weak enough to be imposed upon by their pretences. Perhaps, of late years, the Monthly Review has more contributed to the spreading of Socinianism, than all other writings put together. The plan of that work does not admit of argumentation; a sudden flash of wit is generally reckoned sufficient to discredit a Calvinistic performance; and this just suits the turn of those who are destitute of all religion. A laborious investigation of matters would not suit their temper of mind: they had rather subscribe to the well-known maxim, that "Ridicule is the test of truth :" and then, whenever the Reviewers hold up a doctrine as ridiculous, they have nothing to do, but to join the laugh, and conclude it to be a “vulgar error, or a popular superstition.”
practice of religion that Mr. Belsham was qualified to see and pronounce Calvinism to be gloomy and erroneous, an unamiable and melancholy system? Charity forbids us to think he was thus qualified; and if so, by his own rule he is no very competent judge; except he is pleased to adopt the alternative, that he is only the humble follower of more sagacious, but irreligious guides."*
We read of different kinds of preparatives in the scriptures; but I do not recollect that they contain any thing like the above. Zeal and attention, a disposition to search and pray, according to Solomon, is a preparative for the discovery of truth.† The piety of Cornelius, which he exercised according to the opportunities he possessed of obtaining light, was a preparative for his reception of the gospel as soon as he heard it. And this accords with our Lord's declaration, He that will do his will shall know of his doctrine. On the other hand, the cold indifference of some in the apostolic age, who received not the love of the truth, but, as it should seem, held it with a loose hand, even while they professed it, was equally a preparative for apostacy.§ We also read of some, in Isaiah's time, "who leaned very much to a life of dissipation:" they erred through wine. All tables are full of vomit and filthiness, (saith the prophet, describing one of their assemblies,) so that there is no place. He adds, Whom shall he teach knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? And what is the answer? the men who "leaned to a life of dissipation," who loved to suck at the breasts of sensual indulgence, the proper subjects? No those that were weaned from the breasts, and drawn from the milk. But now, it seems, the case is altered, and, in order to find out the truth, the most likely way is, to be divested of all religion!
It is true, these things are spoken of what are called "speculative Unitarians," whom Dr. Priestley calls "men of the world, and distinguishes them from "serious Christians.” He endeavours also to guard his cause by observing, that the bulk of profes
* Discourse on the Influence of Religious Practice upon our Inquiries after Truth, in Answer to Mr. Belsham's Sermon, p. 6.
+ Prov. ii, 1-9. Acts x. 2 Thes. ii. 10. || Isa. xxviii. 7, 9, 13.
sing Christians, or of those who should have ranked as Christians, in every age, have been of this description. It must be acknowledged, that there have been lukewarm, dissipated, and merely nominal Christians, in all ages of the church, and in every denomination: I suspect, however, that Dr. Priestley, in order to reduce the state of the church in general to that of the Unitarians, has rather magnified this matter. But, be that as it may, there are two circumstances which render it improper for him to reason from this case to the other :-First; whatever bad characters have ranked with other denominations, (at least with ours,) as to their religious creed, we do not own, or consider them as "converts ;" much less do we glory in the spread of our principles, when men of that character profess to embrace them, as this writer does.* If we speak of converts to our principles, we disown such people, and leave them out of the account, as persons whose walk and conversation, whatever be their speculative opinions, discover them to be enemies to the cross of Christ. But, were the Socinians to do so, it is more than probable that the number of converts of whom they boast would be greatly diminished. Secondly; whenever irreligious characters profess to imbibe our principles, we do not consider their state of mind as friendly to them. That which we account truth, is a system of holiness; a system, therefore, which men of "no religion" will never cordially embrace. Persons may, indeed, embrace a notion about the certainty of the divine decrees, and of the necessity of things being as they are to be, whether the proper means be used, or not; and they may live in the neglect of all means, and of all practical religion, and may reckon themselves, and be reckoned by some others, among the Calvinists. To such a creed as this, it is allowed, the want of all religion is the best preparative: but then it must be observed, that the creed itself is as false as the practice attending it is impure, and as opposite to Calvinism as it is to scripture and common sense. Our opponents, on the contrary, ascribe many of their conversions to the absence of religion, as their proper cause, granting that "many of those who judge so truly concerning par
* Discourses on Various Subjects, pp. 91-93, 94, VOL. II.