« AnteriorContinuar »
aétions of that neighbourhood. Small societies of religious persons are, in the same manner, confined by their knowledge, and they contend for principles to no purpose, unless it be to injure and spoil their own tempers. The doctrines which diftinguish the several sects of Christianity are not matters of notice to the present abettors of infidelity ; even the truth and authenticity of Christianity they consider as a matter out of the question. They have, therefore, collected all their force of philosophy, of reason, wit, and humour, to be employed against the being of God. This is the present object and employment of what may be called infidelity.
Mr. Williams is undoubtedly right in the representation which he hath given of the controverfies which divide the Christian Church-Controversies of the last importance to their abettors, but totally disregarded by writers who move in another sphere of speculation. It is the error of little minds to suppose that all the world is interested in matters which principally command their attention; and they are surprised when they find others ignorant of the rise and progress of disputes which they have attended to with unvaried care and solemnity. We cannot better illustrate this remark than by relating an anecdote of a singular kind concerning two heroes of different complexions, but of the same local and contracted sentiments,
A nobleman, well known on the turf, accidentally fell in company with a gentleman whose heart and head were chiefly occupied with some small controverfies that had lately taken place among the two fects of Methodism. The man of zeal very eagerly asked his Lordship, if he had seen Mr. Hill's Farrago? His Lord thip, whose ideas ran on Newmarket, whither he was at that time bound, replied he had not-and begged the gentleman to inform him by whom Farrago was made.“ Made ? - Why I told you my Lord-by Mr. Hill himself.”««. Thed- he was, said my Lord ;-pray, Sir, out of what mare?”—“Mare ? my Lord—I don't understand you.”—“ Not understand me! said the noble jockey. Why, is it not a horse you are talking about?”—"A horse! my Lord—why you are strangely out. - No, I am not talking about a horse. I am talk. ing about a book.”—“ A book?”—“Yes, my Lord, and a moft excellent one indeed, against John Wesley and universal redemption, by Mr. Rowland Hill—the GREAT Mr. Hill, my Lord, whom every body knows to be the first preacher of the age, and the son of the first baronet in the kingdom."-" I ask his pardon, said his Lordship, for not having heard either of him or his book. But I really thought you was talking about a horse for Newmarket.” It is indeed of little consequence to
thofe persons who now lead the opinions of a great part of Europe,' whether Mr. Rowland Hill's Farrago be a horse or a book: whether it is to start for the sweepstakes at Newmarket or the Tabernacle : and it is a matter of perfect indifference to them whether it wins or loses the odds. The contention is too trifing, and the success too infignificant, to excite either hope or fear for one moment. Mr. Williams juftly disdains an encounter with the minute disputants of a paltry sect. His views are higher; for his objects fall within a larger scale. Men (says he) of the first abilities in Europe are zealously employed in propagating these (viz. atheistical] principles: and they do it with a force of eloquence which would do honour to a better cause. This then is the only ground for religious contention - for here alone is to be found an enemy worthy to receive a blow from a man.'
book: altar ments
On this liberal ground of controversy Mr. Williams is ambitious to exhibit proofs of his manhood; and he informs us, that when men of such talents as he had described plead the cause of Atheism and Infidelity, properly so called, the first fpirits of human nature should attend; for every thing important to the world is at ftake. Laws, systems of religion, conftitu. tions and forms of government, are trifles to those first principles by which the universe is beld together; and when they are under confideration, the best talents of the world should be brought forward. -I mention this not only to justify my design, but io filence those very insignificant, though very conceited persons, to whom all subjects are clear and easy, and who are forward to give their opinions of things which they have not bestowed a single thought upon.'
In the prosecution of his subject (viz. the Knowledge of the Deity) the Author observes, that we can only trace out the properties of a cause by its effects and operations. As to the region of analogy and imagination, he would advise his hearers
to go in it one step and one step only. Let mankind (lays he) suppose these great qualities (visible in the volume of God's works ]—this design-this goodness-not to be scattered through the universe, but to belong to one Being who actuates it, and they will know all that can possibly be known of God.Be. ware of trusting your imagination one moment longer. She hath soared her utmost height, and every effort the makes will be towards the earth, and will generate error and absurdity. You are to glance only by the utmost exertion of your abilia ties at that Being who is incomprehensible; and you are to be satisfied with few and general ideas on so great a subject. You will then be impregnably fortified against all the attempts of infidelity ; and if its votaries reproach you with the absurdity, ill character, and villany of the gods which have led enthusiasts and idolaters of all religions to deluge the world with blood, and plague and torment mankind, shew them in all nature an
altar to the unknown God; and invite them to hear the universal voice of nature acknowledging him.'
Mr. Williams is no fyftematical writer ; and whoever fhould consult his Lectures for a regular arrangement of arguments, propofitions, and corollaries, would find himself much disappointed. All that he advances in proof of a Deity, is comprized in a very narrow compass;, and the contemplation of the subject leads him into a train of reflection that would have fuited almost any other topic but that which he profefses to difcuss.-- But great, original, geniuses, are not to be circumscribed within the narrow limits of logical mood and figure. Such daring spirits
From vulgar rules with brave disorder start,
Anå snatch a grace beyond the reach of art! In the fifth lecture, which is a continuation of the preceding subject, the Knowledge of the Deity, Mr. Williams delivers his fentiments on Toleration, and beltows some severe lashes on those inconsistent Protestants who abet it by profession, but discourage it by their practice. " The religious system which, at the Reformation, was fubftituted for Popery, continues to be taught to children, and to be enjoined on the people, under the apprehension of future damnation ; and what is more effectual, with some fubftantial confiderations of profit and loss in this world. The quantity and degree and fort of knowledge are allotted to them as duties are allotted to llaves, not subject to controversy or examination. This is rendered an insult of the most mortifying kind, by the common language and profession in all Protestant countries, that the rights of private judgment are sacred : that the Reformation can be defended only on the acknowledgment of those rights; that every man must be at liberty to form his own opinions, and to act upon these opinions in all things relative to religion. Where is the liberty of a man who in his earliest infancy has his mind filled with principles which require the consideration of his matureft judgment; who is enjoined to believe them, or told that he must forego the love of his parents, the attachment of his family, the respect of his acquaintance, with the many satisfactions and conveniences attending those circumstances ? His friends fhew him the various paths which lead to usefulness, to honour, to riches, and to the indulgence and gratification of those affections which stimulate a man to activity, and without which life is not worth having. He is told, and very truly, that all these paths are not to be entered until he hath configned his understanding, and suffered himself to be inserted in the community like a wheel in the machine, the whole movement of which is governed by one invariable principle. And is this indeed liberty? How then is flavery to be defined ? Indeed Proteftant governments and feets use the language of liberty and toleration : they exclaim against the barbarous cruelties of the Church of Rome. They say—“We would roz for, the world be guilty. of cutting your throats ; but we will make it not worth your while to live, and then it is to be hoped you will save us the dishonour, and cut them yourselves."
I am apt (says our Author) to speak harshly when.I mention intolerance; because there is no principle I detest fo mache' -Mr. Williams seems indeed to speek feelingly, and with all his heart. His reflections on this subject discover evident sympa toms of a mind that ftill smarts from the recollection of ill treatment from bigotry and zeal. But can he not apply to himself his own benediction - Blessed be those glorious fpirits who ftill struggle for the freedom of human reason, and all the great rights of human nature! Thus Ihrouded beneath the wing of his own blessing, he may smile at the impotent efforts of malice and envy, and fet even Presbyterian art and treachery at defiance. The saints (says Bp.Warburton) are vindi&tive.'But he said it in a jelt, when he opposed their power to their inclinations :
“ Unchain'd then let the harmless monsters rage.” For the same good Bishop observes, that the most they can do is to “ mumble, with toothless fury, the game they have not the power to destroy.
Mr. Williams, in the succeeding Lecture, treats of Creation. He enumerates the various opinions of the ancient philosophers on this extremely difficult subject. Most of them he considers as absurd and improbable, in the highest degree. In speaking of the system of Democritus (who defined the Deity to be “ the images and ideas of all sensible objects"-which images and ideas he confidered as “ the only things that have existence"] our Author observes, that the opinions of this philosopher were revived by Dr. Berkley, and have been adopted by many who have persuaded themselves to fancy that there is no material world. This opinion of Democritus was adopted by Taulerus, a celebrated myftic divine of the fourteenth century. In his treatise on the Tree of Life (a subject Mr. Williams hath pafled over, and also the Garden of Eden, in his Lecture on the Creation) this illuminated Doctor of the school of St. Dominic af. serts, that there is no material world. We see nothing that hach a real existence without us. The whole visible universe is but a lhadow-a mere object of intellect, and as unsubstantial as an image in a minor.
Dr. Priestley, by divesting matter of its impenetrability, and allowing it notting but powers unsupported by solid subUtances, hach, in the opinion of many, advanced so very near
to the Berkleian hypothesis, that the difference between him and the Bishop of Cloyne is almost too minute to be distinguished.
Mr. Williams acknowledges that the subject of Creation is very ambiguous, whether we consider the account traditionally given of it by. Moses and the ancient poets and philosophers, or whether we "Speculate on it ourselves, without regarding the hypotheses of others. We have no ideas (says he) of Creation. pr making a world, farther than that of disposing, or Bendering useful, materials already made and endued with certäin properties. What we call making, or inventing, or creating, means no more than discovering what effect, what beauty, or what use arise from certain arrangements of materials and qualities. Ingenious men have therefore meant by Creation, the disposition of things from disorder to order, and from deformity to beauty. If we grant them a chaos consisting of all the principles, materials, and laws which will bring the world together and form it, they will give us a very tolerable idea of the process of Creation. In the disposition of those things we find most eminently those qualities which we admire -Wisdom, power, and goodness. These qualities uniformly co-operate with each other; we therefore refer them to one great principle, which we call God.'
In the seventh Lecture, the Merit of Believing,' is confidered. On this subject the Author advances nothing new.. He treats, with great contempt, what he calls the sophisin of believing what is above our comprehension, but not contrary to our reason. . There is (says Mr. W.) as much sense, and truth, and posibility, in believing what is above our understanding, as in seeing what is beyond our sight, hearing what is out of hearing,' &c. &c.
Is not Mr. Williams, in his eagerness to expose a sophism, led into one himself? If the writers, whom he thus ridicules for what he calls . a jingle upon words, invented for the purpose of imposing on the ignorant,' had laid it down as a theological position, that we might understand what is above our understanding, and comprehend what is above our comprehension, his allufion to the eye, the ear, &c. might have been proper and consistent enough : but he himself hath first created the abfurdity, and then exposed it as the sophism of others. When divines speak of believing what is above our comprehension, they frequently mean an afsent of the mind to the revelation of facts, which they are unable to account for on the common principles of human nature. The eye is bounded by certain objects : the understanding limited by a certain degree of knowledge and comprehension : but belief gives credit for more than we see or know. What can we know of the eternity of God?