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AN EXPOSTULATORY LETTER
THE REV. DR. PRIESTLEY,
OCCASIONED BY HIS HISTORY OF THE CORRUPTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY.
Ret. Sir,—While you invite archdeacons and bishops to defend their Church, and the divinity of their Saviour, may the voice of a poor country vicar be heard amidst the groans of the press, which repeats your challenges? Will not your sense of honour feel too great a disappointment in seeing so mean a person step forth to present you with an expostulatory letter, and to break a spear with you on the very ground where you think yourself invincible—philosophy, reason, and common sense?
Conscious of the variety of your learning, and the greatness of your reputation, I apologize for my boldness, by observing, that the Church is my mother: that the feeblest child has a right to cry out when his mother is stabbed to the heart; and that when the Divine crown of our Xiord is publicly struck at, the least of believers may show his astonishment at the antichristian deed. Nay, he is bound to do it by the two tables of the law: for the first bids him manifest his zeal for the Lord God his Saviour, who, by the Gospel, brought him out of spiritual Egypt, out of the house of heathenish and Popish bondage; and the second table enjoins him to expostulate with his brethren when they sin through inattention, perverseness, or ignorance.
When the Socinians of the last century said that it was impossible to believe that God and man were united in the person of our Lord, the Catholics replied, It was as easy to believe that God and man make one Christ, as to believe that the immortal soul and the mortal body are one man. And Dr. Sherlock added, that the best way for the Socinians to set aside this argument against the mystery of our Lord's incarnation, was to deny the union of soul and body, because they could not understand it; and openly to maintain that man is a body without a soul, a compound of mere matter.
When that judicious divine dropped this hint, he little thought that some philosophers of our day would be so desperately bent upon divesting Christ of his Divine glory, that if even their own souls, and the souls of all mankind, stood in the way, they would freely give them up—they would run into Fatalism and Materialism—they would absolutely renounce the immortality of the soul, and even be content to die like dogs, without leaving any surviving part of themselves, so they might win the day against the catholic Church, and the divinity of our Lord.
I am sorry to observe, Rev. sir, that you have the dangerous honour to be at the head of these bold philosophers. Dr. Berkley was so singular as to deny the existence of matter; and so bold as to obtrude upon us a system which annihilates the bodies of all mankind: according to his doctrine, there is nothing but spirit in the world, and matter exists only in our ideas. As a rival of his singularity, you run into the opposite extreme; you annihilate our souls; you turn us into mere machines: we are nothing but matter; and if you allow us any spirit, it is only such as can be distilled like spirits of wine. Thus (if we believe you both) being ground, not only to atoms, but to absolute nonentity, between the two mill stones of our preposterous and contrary mistakes, we have neither form nor substance, neither body nor soul!
Glad am I, sir, that when you made so free with the souls of men, you did not pass your philosophical sponge over the existence of " the Father of spirits," the great Soul, which gives life and motion to the universe. But, though you spare the Father's dignity, you attack the Son's divinity: you deny the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, and, by hasty strides, you carry us back to (what appears to me) a dwarf, mongrel Christianity, made up of Materialism, Judaism, and the baptism of John.
To gain this inglorious end, in your History of the Corruptions of Christianity, you collect the capital errors invented by fallen Christians in the corrupt ages of Christianity; then, taking some of the most precious Gospel truths, you blend them with those errors; and, rendering them all equally odious, you turn them promiscuously out of the Church, as " the corruptions of Christianity." Thus you cleanse the temple of truth, as our Lord would have cleansed that of Jerusalem, if he had thrown down the tables which bore the shew bread as well as the tables of the money changers; and if he had turned out the cherubim of glory as he did the beasts which defiled that holy place: in short, you treat our Lord's divinity as the Jews treated his humanity, when they numbered him with felons, that the hurrying mob might cry with a show of piety, "Away with him! Crucify him," with the thieves, his accursed companions t
If this method should fail, you seem determined to cany your point by pressing the primitive Church into the service of your cause. In the fourth century the Christian world was astonished to see itself Arian: but, if we believe you, there was no reason for this astonishment, for in the second century it was Socinian already.
Happily for your attentive readers, your zeal has outrun your prudence; for in your eagerness to heap up the testimonies of the fathers, which you thought would prove that the primitive Church was a stranger to the catholic doctrine of the trinity, you have produced some which (if I mistake not) are alone sufficient to overthrow all your historical proofs.
To instance only in one particular. In your History (page 60) you quote Tertullian, a learned and pious father of the second century. And the two passages you produce from him are some of the strongest that could be brought to prove, that in his time none but stubborn Jews, and stupid or perverse hearers of the Gospel, objected to the doctrine of the trinity. Permit me to lay those passages at full length before the English reader, who is desired to remember that they are a partof Tertullian's defence of the sacred trinity against Praxeas, a man who, by the antichristian manner in which he stood up for the Divine unity, may be called the Priestley of that age.
"It is the property of the faith of a Jew (says the learned father) so to admit the Divine unity, as not to include therein the Son, and after him the Spirit. For what difference is there between the Jews and us but this? What need of the Gospel, if it do not clearly hold out to us the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, as constituting the Divine unity? God [by changing circumcision for baptism] has so ordered this new sacrament, that his unity should now be believed in a new [that is, in afar more explicit] manner, as inclusive of the Son, and of the Spirit; and that God, whose unity was not clearly apprehended, as comprehensive of the Son, and of the Spirit, when he was preached in time past [to the Jews] might now be openly known according to his proper names and persons."* [Namely, according to the names and persons of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.]
Tertullian pursues: "When I say that the Father is one, the Son another, and the Spirit another, a sottish, or a perverse man, takes that expression in a wrong sense, and supposing that it implies a diversity [of gods,] from this mistaken diversity, he pretends that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are scparate."f
Should you, sir find fault with my translation of these two passages, you will not dispute the exactness ot jour own translation of a third passage from Tertullian's works, which is a glorious testimony, that (according to the catholic faith, the Regula Fidei,) the Son not only pre-existed, contrary to your favourite error, but was with the Father, the Maker of the world. You give us this wholesome antidote in your Remarks on the Rev. Mr. Badcock's Review of your Letters to Dr. Horsley, p. 18.
* The laconic style of Tertullian has obliged me to add little parentheses, in italics, to render his obvious meaning plain to an English reader. However, that Dr. P. may not complain, I shall transcribe, from his own book, the onginal quotation:—Judaica fidei ista res sic unum Deum credere, ut Filium adnumerare ei nolis, et postfilium Spiritum. Quid opus Evangelii tic non exinde Pater, et Fdiut, et Spiritus, unum Deum sistvnt? Si Deus voluit novare sacramentum, ut none unus crederetur per Filium et Spiritum, et coram jam Deus in suis propriis Nominibus et Personis cognosceretur, qui et retro per Filium et Spiritum pradicatus non inteltigebatur. Ad Praxeam, sec. 30, p. 518.
t Eece entm dieo alium esse Patrem, et alium Filium, et alium Spirttum. Mate aceipit Idiotes quisquis aut Perversus hoc dictum, quasi diversitatem sonet, et ex divcrtitate separationem pratendit Patris, Filii, et Spiritus. Ad Tinj.e&m, sec. 8, p. 504. I do not translate the word idiotes, "unlearned," (as Dr. P. does,) but "idiot," or "stupid." (1.) Because this sense of it suits best the tenor of the whole book, and of this particular sentence: and, (2.) Because it is the primary meaning which Ainsworth ascribes to idiota, and which he proves to be classical, by observing, that Cicero opposes the word idiota to an intelligent and tentible person. Dr. Horsley has, by the same reasons, rescued another capital passage of Tertullian, which Dr. P. has pressed into his service by the mistake I guard against.
, Kegula Fidei (the Rule of Faith; you say after Tertullian in the Treatise De Prascriptione) "by which we are taught to believe, that there is but one God, and this no other than the Maker of the world, who produced every thing out of nothing, by his own Word then first sent down; that the Word was called his Son; that he appeared variously in the name [that is, in the character] of God to the patriarchs; that he was afterward conveyed by the Spirit and power of God the Father, into the Virgin Mary; that he was made flesh in her womb, and from her appeared in the person of Jesus Christ," &c. We, worshippers of God the Son manifest in the flesh, are much obliged to you, sir, for thus informing your readers, that the rule of faith taught the primitive Christians, first, that the Word and Son of God was sent out from the Father to produce the world out of nothing: secondly, that this very Word or Son appeared variously to the patriarchs in the character of God: and thirdly, that he afterward was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. This is all we contend for: you prove that it was the catholic faith, and yet you are so forgetful of your own quotations as to pretend to prove from the fathers, that our Lord was a mere man.
From these three quotations it appears that Dr. P., instead of demonstrating that the primitive Church was, in general, of his way of thinking, has only proved that the primitive rule of faith was against him, and that in Tertullian's days, about two hundred years after Christ, some mistaken persons took exception against the doctrine of the trinity: but who were these persons, beside the unbelieving Jews and the heretic Praxeas? Truly the stupid or perverse people, who chanced to hear the Gospel; and Dr. P. is welcome to all the weight they can add to his cause, and to all the honour they can confer upon his party.
What effect the learned doctor's book will have upon the unwary, and upon those who take his partial quotations upon trust, I do not know. But I can say with truth that the sixtieth page of his long History has confirmed me in the faith which I vowed to Christ at my baptism, and seems to me sufficient to prevent the mischief of the whole. When God suflers us to be tempted to dangerous errors, he always opens, with the temptation, a door that we may escape. Through his overruling providence the learned doctor himself has here opened us the door, by informing us that it was NOT judicious and good Christians, but Sottish and PERVERSE people, who formerly mistook and cavilled at the catholic doctrine of the trinity. We thank the doctor for the door; and making our easy escape at it, we bless the Keeper of Israel, who takes the wise in their own net; and adapting the second Psalm to the builders, who, in our day, reject the Head Stone of the corner, we sing, The wise ones of the earth "stand up, and take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed. But he that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." Be wise now, therefore, ye philosophers: be learned, ye that are doctors in Israel. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry," and so ye perish in the sottishness or perverseness of your unlwlief.