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A PLEA &c.
MY CHRISTIAN BRETHREN:
ALTHOUGH the doctrine of our Saviour's di vinity hath been so often and so fully examined, that nothing new remains to be said, yet three considerations induce me to address to you the following reasons to confirm your belief of it.
First. The doctrine itself is important. It regards the OBJECT of our worship. Either Jesus Christ is truly and properly God, or his worshippers are guilty of idolatry.
Next, I wish to preserve that just distinction, which the first founders of your congregation taught you, and which you have hitherto retained; I mean,
a DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE VIRTUE OF A CHA
RACTER AND THE TRUTH OF A DOCTRINE. Your first pastors, the one a fellow of Clare-hall, the other a fellow of Trinity, along with two thousand other clergymen, quitted their preferments in the established church, rather than resign the godlike privilege of self-determining in matters of religion: but at the same time they taught you not to take their doctrines for true because of their resignation; but to examine them yourselves, and to judge of
First. We give up St. Athanasius. We plead for the divinity of Jesus Christ, and not for that explication of it, which is contained in a creed commonly attributed to him. The damnatory clauses in that creed savour of the violent spirit of his times, and have generally been thought harsh and uncharitable.
Secondly. We do not propose a distinct address in prayer to one divine person exclusive of another divine person. The three persons in the deity may be distinguished; but cannot be divided. God is one undivided essence, and to him, the one God, is our worship addressed, through the mediator Jesus Christ.
Thirdly. We do not justify any of those similitudes, which either ancient or modern writers have used in attempting to explain the nature of God. God, we think, is a being without parallel, and therefore inexplicable. There is not a nature like his in all the universe. Were an intelligent being to comprehend the nature of every created being in our system; were he to pass millions of ages in passing from system to system, in studying and comprehending the natures of other created intelligences; there would still remain one nature, that of the Supreme Being, in possession of some peerless peculiarity, which had not its likeness in all the Creator's unbounded empire, so that it would never be in the power of this intelligent being, with all his knowledge, to select a creature, and to say of it,— This being subsists exactly as the Supreme Being subsists. Now, according to our notion, as all our
knowledge of invisible objects is obtained by analogy, that is, by the resemblance, which they bear to visible objects; and as there is in nature no exact.resemblance of the nature of God; an attempt to explain the divine nature seems absurd and impracticable.
Fourthly. We do not think it necessary to enter on learned arguments. A doctrine supported only by criticisms, the understanding of which requires much literary skill, is certainly not a doctrine intended for the bulk of mankind. All truths, which fall under the notice of both the learned and unlearned part of mankind, are subject to learned objections and to popular objections; and consequently, they are to be defended by learned and by popular arguments. A plain christian ought to propose his own doubts, if he have any, about the truth of a doctrine; but, when his own doubts are removed by the force of plain, popular reasoning, he ought not to suffer his mind to be bewildered in greek and hebrew characters, the reasonings on which he does not understand. It is the glory of all the doctrines of christianity, and particularly of that of Christ's divinity, to give evidence to common observation, and to plain good sense.
Fifthly. We renounce every notion of a right to persecute those, who disbelieve the doctrine of Christ's divinity. You, my brethren, have borne a noble testimony against guarding the doctrines of christianity by penal sanctions, by joining above nine hundred of your sister churches in a petition
their truth by their conformity to the holy scriptures. The reverend and worthy clergymen, who have lately resigned their livings in the established church rather than act the hypocritical part of worshipping a person, the evidence of whose divinity they could not perceive, have ascertained by their conduct the rectitude of their consciences, the virtue of their characters; but they do not pretend to rest the truth of the doctrine on the merit of their resignation. They conscientiously offer arguments against the divinity of Jesus Christ. We venerate their conscientiousness; but we think their arguments inconclusive.
Lastly. We wish to cherish that amiable spirit of TOLERATION, which reigns among you; but to preclude an ABUSE of it. Your present social happiness proceeds from this spirit; and your happiness will last as long as your moderation continues; but should you ever, under pretence of candour and moderation, become indifferent to all religious principles, you would pervert the best disposition to the worst purpose. A firm attachment to principles of your own, is perfectly compatible with an extensive charity to those, who discover an attachment as firm to principles diametrically opposite.
Let it not seem strange to you, my brethren, that those gentlemen, who have lately embraced the belief of our Lord's mere humanity, should engage the church in religious controversy. They have done what every conscientious man ought to do. They have endeavoured to free the disciples
of Christ from a supposed error in the doctrine of their master's nature. They have begun the controversy in a spirit of candour and benevolence. Controversy does not deserve to be called religious, unless it be religiously managed; that is to say, unless it be managed with all that good faith, undaunted courage, and extensive benevolence, which the gospel recommends. There is the highest reason for this way of disputing. It is founded on the nature of things. He, who never doubted a religious truth, never believed it. Merit and demerit do not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, a truth; but in paying, or in not paying, that attention to the evidences of it, which its nature and importance require. A fiery passionate dispute about the deity is not a religious controversy; it is a dark, diabolical quarrel about God.
It would ill become frail fallible men, it would worse become protestant dissenters, who every day sacrifice to religious liberty, to assume a dictatorial air in matters of faith. What I am going to offer to you on the divinity of Jesus me the truth: but perhaps I am can understand his errors? and should I ever discover the deception, I would retract my error. At present I affirm, because I believe, that JESUS CHRIST IS TRULY AND PROPERLY GOD.
Christ appears to deceived; for who
Before we enter immediately on the evidences of the doctrine, let us discharge it from some incumbrances, which, having been associated with it, weaken its evidence ; but which have really nothing to do with the doctrine itself.