« VorigeDoorgaan »
Trent, the Synod of Dort, the assembly of divines that sat at Westminster, an English Convocation, or a Scotch General Assembly, will be considered by him in the very same light, viz. as the words of man, and not as the words of God. He will try them all by the law and the testimony, and will receive or reject them just as he finds them agreeable or not to that only sufficient rule. He will call no man Father but God, and no man Master but Christ. This is the course that a Christian and a Protestant ought to take, and those who act a contrary part, and blindly and implicitly follow the principles of their education, and the opinions of their ancestors, without inquiry or examination, hardly deserve to be called by these honourable appellations. As their religion is not the effect of conviction, free choice, and reflection; but is caused merely by the customs and prevailing notions of their own country, they are entitled to no approbation, even though they should be accidentally in the right. For if the providence of God had fixed their birth in other ages, or in different parts of the world, they would have followed the multitude in the same irrational manner, and never called in question the sentiments that generally prevailed. If they had existed at the time that Christianity was first promulgated, they would have been Pagans, and have rejected the doctrines of Christ and his apostles. If they had been born in Spain or Italy, they would have been Papists; if in Turkey or Persia, Mohammedans; if in Tartary, they would have adored the grand Lama; and if in China they would have followed the idolatry that there prerails, been disciples of Confucius, and worshipped the statues of their ancestors, &c. It is obvious, therefore, that it is incumbent upon all persons who would wish to guard against error, when they arrive at the years of discretion, to inquire after truth as far as their circumstances and opportunities will permit; and if this is done in a serious and impartial manner, it is all that can justly be required of any person ; for no man can be blamed for those mistakes that are unavoidable we are only culpable when we indolently acquiesce in prevailing and popular opinions, and contemptuously reject light and evidence when it is afforded us. The scripture is not wanting in exhortations to excite us to this manly, and indispensable duty of free inquiry. i Thes. v. 24. *Prove all things: hold fast that which is good,' i John,
iv. 1. Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.' And the Jews of Berea are commended (Acts xvii. 11.) as more noble than those of Thessalonica, becuase "they searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so :' that is, they did not hastily reject, nor yet tamely receive, the doctrine of the apostle; but examined it by the scriptures of the Old Testament, and determined their assent accordingly. From these passages of holy writ, it is apparent, that fair and impartial inquiry is a duty prescribed by our most holy religion. We ought to prove all opinions that we have access and opportunity to examine, and hold fast only that which is good. As many false prophets and delusive teachers have gone forth into the world, in different ages, and our own not excepted, we cannot be sure but that some of those we most admire and approve, may be of that number, and that others whon we have been taught to consider erroneous and heretical, may be true teachers; we must, therefore, try the spirits, that is, examine the pretensions of each party, and not believe any without putting their doctrines to the test of reason and the word of God. For a conduct of this kind, the Bereans above-men
tioned were highly applauded, as noble, ingenuous, and liberal .. minded persons; and surely those who neglect to imitate their
good example, may be styled ignoble, tame, grovelling, illiberal people; either ignorantly and unreasonably prejudiced against opinions which they never calmly examined; or solely engrossed with secular cares and pursuits, carelessly following the multitude, without giving themselves the trouble to inquire whether their religious tenets be founded in truth or error.
The author of the following Discourses, being born of Presbyterian parents, was educated in the principles of the church of Scotland, but saw reason, pretty early in life, to call in question some of her doctrines; and as years and knowledge increased, his objections to her religious creed, and his convica tions of its erroneousness, became still more numerous and pow. erful. What gave him the most uneasiness was the doctrine of a Trinity in Unity. He discovered with concern, that the Confession of Faith of the church of Scotland, which all her ministers are obliged to assent to, heid forth the notion of three eternal, distinct, divine persons, or intelligent agents, equally infinite in
all perfections, in express opposition to the sacred scriptures, which affirm that there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things that the Father is above all, through all, and in us all, and is the only true God; and that Jesus Christ and all other beings are the subjects, creatures, and servants, of this great and only Sovereign of the Universe. This doctrine of a triune Deity, together with that of the incarnation of God, and of two natures in Jesus Christ, the church of Scotland, in common with other Protestant establishments, derived from that mother of abominations, the church of Rome; and has asserted them in various places of her Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and Sum of Saving Knowledge, in terms as express and decisive as the Athanasian creed itself. The author, therefore, having maturely and deliberately considered the subject, found he could no longer, with a good conscience, remain in the communion of a church, where a false popish Deity was acknowledged, in place of the living and only true God the Father; and did, therefore, several years ago withdraw from the church of Scotland, chiefly on that account. He would gladly have joined himself to any other society, in which the purity of the Christian faith was professed; but could find none such in the place where he lived. The Episcopal party was as strictly Trinitarian as the Presbyterians ; and their liturgy (although containing many excellent things in other respects) being formed on a tritheistic plan, was still more offensive to a Unitarian, than the worship of the church of Scotland. The smaller sects and parties in this part of the world, were also all Trinitarians in one form or other. So that the author was constrained for a considerable while to live by himself, without enjoying the benefit of public or social worship at all. At last having the good fortune to meet with some persons who professed sentiments similar to his own, a small society was formed about two years ago upon a Unitarian plan. * This little church
takes the scriptures alone for its guide, and acknowledges no human articles or confessions of faith whatever. Its leading tenets are derived from the sacred source of the word of God, and -are as few and simple as can well be imagined; and may be ex
* The reader will attend, that this preface was' first published
in 1784. ,
pressed as follows, viz. “ That there is one God the Father sapreme over all ; that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and Saviour of the world, that the mercy and benevolence of the Deity our heavenly Father is not restricted and confined to a few, but extends to all his rational offspring, that there shall be a resurrection from the dead, a general judgment, and a future state, in which men shall be rewarded or punished according to their works." These are the great outlines of our religious system; and many points of theology, which have been warmly debated, and zealously enforced, by other parties of Christians, are by us left to the private judgment of every individual member of our society, according to his light, discernment, and knowledge; and no person is permitted to impose his own sentiments upon another, in regard to topics that have not been decided the society at large. The profession of the divine Unity, or the one sole Godhead of the Father, being the tenet that the most distinguishes this society from any other in this part of the world, the Discourses which follow were delivered when it was first opened and made public, in order to make the principle better known, and if possible to gain the assent of Christians to it. With the same view and intention they are now published and given to the world. Whether they will be attended with any good effect or not must be left - to time. These Discourses are in substance the same as they were originally delivered ; but the author has abridged them in some parts, and enlarged them in others; and has supported his own sentiments in some places by quotations from eminent biblical critics and commentators; and in others has given frequent extracts from the writings of those learned and excellent persons, who have been witnesses for God and his truth, and trod the the path of Unitarianism before him. To their valuable writings he acknowledges himself much indebted for many good arguments and illustrations of the sacred records. He has endeavoured to express himself in the plainest manner, so as to make his meaning level to every capacity. The author has seen occasion, in some instances, lo rectify our pregent English version where it is erroneous; and in others to depart from the common reading of the Greek Testament altogether, and have recourse to the authority of manuscripts, the best and most accurate editions, and the oldest and most ap
proved versions. But he has never done so without assigning his reasons, and producing sufficient vouchers and authorities.
There are some who affect to decry all critical emendations of this kind, and would persuade us that the Greek text, as it appears in the common editions of the New Testament, is quite correct, and that our English version is so perfect as to stand in need of no amendment. But a very small acquaintance with the critical history of the New Testament is sufficient to confute this absurd assertion. The text of the Greek Testament from which our common editions are drawn, was settled up- wards of two hundred years ago, from a very imperfect collation of manuscripts by Stephens and Beza. And our English version was made from this text about the beginning of the last century; consequently, whatever mistakes had been inserted into the one, must also be found in the other; for the copy could not be more perfect than its original. In the course of more than one hundred and sixty years, that have elapsed since our present translation was finished, much light has been thrown on the scriptures by the united labours of many great critics and commentators : and a far more complete and accurate collation of manuscripts has been performed than that accomplished by Stephens and Beza.. The celebrated Alexandrine manuscript, one of the most ancient in the world, was not in their time known in Europe ; and many MSS. in Italy, Germany, and England, were not consulted at all; and even some of those that were then collated, appear from the scrutinies they have since undergone, not to have been examined with a proper degree of accuracy. Dr. Mill, who lived about a century after our present English Bible was translated, was the first that ever presented the world with any considerable nunıber of different readings. The number he has collected have been computed to amount to thirty thousand, many of which are trifling, but some are of great importance, and supported by the authority of the best manuscripts, the ancient versions, Fathers, &c. Kuster, who reprinted Mill's edition, increased the number of readings, and Bengelius added to those of Kuster. Professor Wetstein produced a great many more, and has given the world the most elaborate edition of the Greek Testament ever published : and the learned Griesbach has exhibited still more variations, and informs us that the laborious task of collation is not yet fully