Page images

doctrines must of course be true. A large proportion of that work is designed to point out the native tendency of principles, or what, other things being equal, they may be expected to produce in those who imbibe them.

2. If that part of the work which relates to facts, fall under a censure of self commendation, the same may be said of the writings of some of the best of men who have ever written. Mr. Neale, in his History of the Puritans, thought it no breach of modesty to prove, that they were far better men than their persecutors.* The reformers, in establishing their cause, availed themselves of the immoralities of the papists, and the superior moral efficacy of the doctrine of the reformed churches 'upon the hearts and lives of men. The ancient fathers, in their apologies for christianity, constantly appealed to the holy lives of christians as a proof of the purity of their doctrine. And the apostles, though they praised not themselves, yet made no scruple of affirming, that those who believed their doctrines were purified in obeying them ;' that they

were of God, and that the whole world was then lying in wickedness. These things were truths, and they had a right to insist upon them; not for the purpose of commending themselves, but for the sake of doing justice to the gospel.

3. In reflecting upon the ground of argument used by the author of The Systems Compared, contemptuously calling it "holy ground,' does not Mr. Belsham cast a reflection upon the great Founder of the christian religion, who taught his disciples to judge of the tree by its fruits ? to?

Vol. i. chap. 8. + If Mr. Belsham should distinguish, as Mr. Kentish does, between the truth of doctrines and their value, and maintain that the effects which they produce are a proper criterion of the latter, but not of the former; it might be asked, whether the value of a doctrine does not imply its truth? Surely, falsehood will not be reckoned valuable ;, and if so, whatever proves the value of a doctrine, proves it at the same time to be true.

4. By rejecting this ground of argument, and professing to rest his cause upon another, Mr. Belsham, after the example of Dr. Toulmin, has given up the controversy, as it respects the moral efficacy of principles.

5. If reasoning from the moral efficacy of doctrines be improper, and imply the pharisaical spirit of self commendation, Mr. Belsham must have acted improperly and pharisaically in commencing an attack on the Calvinists upon this principle. Did the author of The Systems Compared begin this war? No: it was Mr. Belsham himself that began it. This holy ground, from which he now pretends to retire in disgust, was of his own marking out. It was Mr. Belsham, who, in the plenitude of his confidence, that his cause was the cause of truth, first pleaded for its comparative importance, by affirming, that those who were pious and benevolent characters with our principles, would have been much more so with his. And yet this same Mr. Belsham, after thus throwing down the gauntlet, can decline the contest; after two of his brethren have tried all their strength, and summoned all their resources in defence of Socinian piety, he can talk of Unitarians'not trespassing upon this holy ground,' and of the characters which they could produce, were they inclined to boast. Yes: this is the writer, who, after acknowledging that “Unitarians had often been represented as indifferent to practical religion;' allowing too, that there had been some plausible ground for the accusation ;' and not justifying such things, but merely expressing a hope that they would continue “but for a time. This I say is the writer who can now accuse Mr. Wilberforce of pharisaism, for repeating his own concessions; and what is worse, can justify that life of dissipation which he had before condemned, by comparing it

Should he farther allege with the above writer, that “this celebrated saying is proposed as a test of character, and not as a criterion of opinion;" it might be answered, it is proposed as a test of false prophets or teachers; a character never ascribed to those whose doctrines accord with truth. See Matt. vii. 16.

with the conduct of him, who came eating and drinking, and affecting no habits of austerity or unnecessary singularity.'

6. It is not true, that the author of The Systems Compared has objected, either to the critical examination or judicious explanation of the scriptures. It is true, he has not adopted this as his ground of argument; yet instead of denying it in others, as Mr. Belsham would have it thought, he has expressed his approbation of it. It is not of criticising, and much less of judiciously explaining the scriptures, that he complains, but of perverting them. In the same page in which he complained of the Socinians 'mangling and altering the translation to their own minds,' he also said, 'Though it be admitted that every translation must needs have its imperfections, and that those imperfections ought to be corrected by fair and impartial criticism; yet where alterations are made by those who have an end to answer by them, they ought always to be suspected, and will be so by thinking and impartial people. If Mr. Belsham had quoted this part of the passage, as well as the other, it might have prevented the pleasure which he doubtless felt, in repeating the quaker's exclamation. To say nothing of his pedantic supposition, that all argument is confined to criticising texts of scripture ; let others judge who it is that is under the necessity of exclaiming, 'Oh argument, oh argument, the Lord rebuke thee!' After all, the stress which our opponents lay upon criticism, affords a strong presumption against them. It was a shrewd saying of Robinson's, 'Sober criticism is a good thing : but wo be to the system that hangs upon it!'

7. The threat which Mr. Belsham holds out of the tales which they could tell of their orthodox brethren,' contains an unfounded implication. Any reader would suppose from this passage, that Mr. Belsham's opponents had dealt largely in such tales : but this is not true. If the author on whom he reflects had been disposed to deal in articles of this kind, he might possibly have swelled

les of this kind reflects had beens is not true.

his publication beyond its present size. But contrary to this, he professedly disclaimed introducing individual characters, or private tales, on either sides, as being equally invidious, and unnecessary to the argument. The truth is, he rested his cause upon the concessions of his adversaries; and this is the galling circumstance to Mr. Belsham and his party. What tales have been told are of their telling. They may now insinuate what great things they could bring forward in their own favour, and to our disadvantage, were they not restrained by considerations of modesty and generosity. But they can do nothing, and this they well know, without first retracting what they have conceded; nor even then, forasmuch as all such retractions would manifestly appear to the world to be only to answer an end.

In fine, I appeal not merely to Mr. Belsham's special jury, of 'men of enlightened minds, and sound learning,' but to every man of common understanding, whether his apology for declining a defence of his own assertion be either ingenuous or just; whether a larger portion of misrepresentation and self-contradiction could well have been crowded into so small a compass; and whether what he has advanced can be considered in any other light, than as the miserable groan of a dying cause.


Chap. i. and x.

These visions seem very obscure. Most expositors consider the living creatures to be angels: but they appear to be the same as the 'four beasts,' or living creatures, in Rev. v. 8, 9. And these are redeemed men; for they sung, “thou hast redeemed us.' Others interpret them by the four beasts in the Revelation, understanding both of gospel ministers. But what relation had gospel ministers with the visions of Ezekiel, or the prophecies that follow? Probably the following observations may cast some light upon the subject.

1. It was not unusual for the prophets, when they first received their commission, to be favoured with some extraordinary vision. Isai. vi. Rev. i.

2. These visions had something in them suited to the occasion. The year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision of Jehovah sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. The great high priest of the church, 'walking among the seven golden candlesticks, denoted the interest he took in the affairs of the church, to which the prophecies of the Revelation referred. We may therefore expect to find something in Ezekiel's visions suited to the state of things at that time.

3. They may therefore be understood in general, as a representation of the God and King of Israel, with a glorious retinue, in a moveable position, as ready to take leave of Jerusalem. God had been used to dwell between the cherubims' in the temple: this was the character under which he was often addressed. Psal.

« PreviousContinue »