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ing and learned education could comprehend, the nature and evidences of which can only be understood by those who devote their whole time to close investigation-unlearned persons, who are almost entirely occupied in secular employments, must be content to believe and act as their spiritual superiors should direct. But the fact is otherwise. Religion is a plain, simple, intelligible doctrine. It consists in the love of God and our neighbour, and in the practice of virtue founded upon
the expectation of a future life. All who are capable of performing the duties, may also understand the obligations of religion, and the Christian doctrine is so clearly revealed in the New Testament, that no HONEST inquirer can greatly mistake.”
If this is the fact, and I most heartily join issue in declaring such to be the case, let Mr. Belsham take the consequence of bis own declaration-that the understanding and practice of religion requires but a virtuous and honest mind, the priestly office vanishes away, and its place is supplied by free inquirers, examining for themselves, thinking for themselves, and acting for themselves! What a glorious revolution this would bring about in the circumstances of man, and how ardently to be wished for by the REAL reformist and true Christian ! Mr. B. has compleatly committed the question on his side, and given up the last vestige of an argument in support of a distinct order of men set apart to teach Christianity; for let it be observed that the thinking and scriptural Unitarians only defend the practice on the ground of expediency and utility · But here it must be pretty clear that the utility and expediency lies all on the other side, and it is highly expedient for every one to enquire for themselves into this “ plain, simple, intelligible doctrine" that is so clearly revealed in the New Testament.
Page 23.-" The right of private judgment is inherent in the rational accountable constitution of man," &c. man has a right to judge of the truth of a doctrine, he has equally a right to judge of its importance;, he acts a virtuous or benevolent part in adapting whatever he may judge to be the best and most efficacious means of making it known to and causing it to be received by others." "He has therefore a right, and it is his IMPERATIVE DUTY, whether by instruction, or catechism, or conversation, or conFERENCE, or DEBATE, public or private, whether by writing or by printing and publishing--or by public preaching or teaching from house to house-or by holding forth in the market-place, the fields or the highways--whether men will hear or whether they will forhear, to promulgate what he believes to be essential or highly important truth, and to protest against what in his estimation is pernicious error.” The whole of this extract speaks so loud that comment is
66 If a
rendered unnecessary, addition would be an incumbrance, and further exposure completely impossible. Can it be, I would ask, that the writer of these immortal sentiments is a hireling preacher, whose constant practice wars against every sentence here laid down? Allowing that these were wrote in his cool and reflecting moments, what must be our opinion of such a man! Reader, shall I exceed the bounds of Christian charity in denouncing him as a most dangerous character, usurping the rights of his fellow men, and undermining the pure religion of Jesus!
So then we have the written authority of Mr. Belsham for believing that it is the imperative duty of the Christian to promulgate his sentiments by conference or debate, &c. What have been the thoughts of a certain reverend gentleman at the Gravel Pits, upon reading this part of his reverend brother's publication, mild as heis, and so little inclined to censure ? surely he can hardly help thinking, that it was at least very injudicious in so committing the craft. Besides, the remarkable passages just quoted may bring to his recollection an unlucky piece of writing of his a few years back, in which he aimed at degrading the Christian church by insinuating that it was only a Sunday debating society.
It may be considered by the liberal and timid part of your readers, that Mr. Belsham's inconsistency does not deserve what they may term severe animadversion ; that great allowance ought to be made for him, considering the circumstances he has been placed in, &c. I would reply that this squeamish liberality, this sham candour, is quite as applicable to the greatest villain in existence ; for he is equally the creature of the circumstances he has been placed in : and therefore this kind of reasoning would tend to make us forego all kind of remark upon the folly and wickedness of our fellow-creatures, and thereby deprive ourselves of one strong means for our advancement in knowledge and virtue. However, to satisfy this class of readers, which I hope is not numerous, I will furnish them with another extract-it contains a key to the whole performance, and I think the annals of sophistry and deception can hardly furnish a parallel. Let it be observed, that in the pamphlet it comes in close connection with the last extract
“Or if he thinks himself unqualified for the office of a teacher, and feelSNO CALL toit, he may and ought, according to his ability, to contribute to the support of those who, in his judgment, are LABOURING with active and well informed zeal in the support and diffusion of truth, or who are preparing or qualifying themselves for the sacred office.” Now all this is sheer nonsense ; for if it is the “ imperative duty” of the Christian to promulgate his sentiments, it must be a dereliction of that duty in him, paying another to do that which it was his own particular business to perform. Besides, it cannot require so much ability to obtain a knowledge of this simple thing, as Mr. Belsham calls it, and be able to make known your sentiments in some of the various ways pointed out in the second extract. It don't appear to require remarkable powers of oratory to “write, or print, or publish,” or even to enter into “ conversation or private conference ;” and surely it is not necessary that we should feel calls, and enter into sacred offices, to do that which is the “ imperative duty” of every Christian to perform. Such are the miserable shuillings of men, when their practice and precepts cut against each other!
I could wish your readers to keep in mind the words CALL, LABOURING, AND SACRED OFFICE, investigating their real meaning and their general application. As to the first,“ feeling no call to an office," it is so truly calvinistic, and so connected with the stalest imposture, it is surprising that the supporters of Essex Street can be carried away with such priestly delusion.
The perversion of reason is a fruitful subject of lamentation, but the application of words to men or things, of a directly opposite nature to what they are invariably understood to convey, can only afford scope for ridicule and food for mirth. Such are always my feelings when I hear these pious impostors talking of labouring; they are so fond of telling us about their labour, that you would really suppose they did occasionally turn their unwieldy bodies, but such however is not the case. In their hands the word undergoes a change, its real meaning being quite contrary to its clerical acceptation, which signifies about six hours application throughout seven days.What would our Nottingham manufacturers say to this convenient definition of labour 2 The favourite old simile of the ox treading out the corn would give a complete finish to this part of the argument.
We are informed in the last quotation from the pamphlet, that we ought not only to support the labourers, but likewise those who are “preparing themselves for the sacred office." Contempt seems too noble a feeling for this last expression. What is the office? a violation of the Christian religion, as has been proved in your Magazine. Who are the men that have and do now fill the office ? a set of the most worthless and idle in society, frequently feeling a call to the situation, for the purpose of being well fed, and living in indolence and luxury. Whether we look at our own times, or trace the history of man up to its earliest period, we shall find these sacred characters to have been the most uniform deceivers, enslavers, and oppressors of mankind, making their own advantage consist in the ignorance and credulity of the multitude. We have been told that the confidence of friends is sacred, and that the person of the king is sacred; but to read of the sacred office of a priest, is certainly a novelty in these reforming and enlightened times.
Leaving for a moment Mr. Belsham and his wonderful pamphlet, I could wish your readers to bear in mind one most important point, that it is their bounden duty and inalienable right to examine, act, and think for themselves, in all religious matters; and that in case of their neglect, they disregard the high favour of their Maker, and incapacitate themselves from being that Christian character, which the life and directions of Jesus and Paul ought to form all those that profess to believe in their religion. Let the serious and candid enquirer read and re-read the two first extracts contained in this essay, for a moment disregarding who the writer is, but keeping his eye steadily fixed upon the principles they contain ; and if he only acts upon them, I am satisfied they will be of the highest importance to him throughout life; and should he but just take a glance at their author, I feel persuaded that he will think the application of any language cannot be too severe to a man that can lay down such pure principles in writing, and yet in his practice pursues a line of conduct so directly opposite, that one is the necessary destroyer of the other.
Having occupied so much of your room, I hasten to a conclusion, by calling upon Mr. Belsham (if he wishes to preserve any sort of character for honesty and consistency), to either withdraw the sentiments contained in his pamphlet, or else resign his present system of teaching religion. Was he obliged to choose one of these two lines of conduct, I am inclined to think, that it would require no superior degree of sagacity to discover which would be his choice.
Taking my leave of this consistent priest for the present, I would recommend
readers to “ do as he says, but not as he does."
ON THE WORD "HEAVEN.
To the Editor of the Freethinking Christians' Magazine. IT IT is a lamentable fact, that the grand cause of many errors
among the religious is to be attributed to their fanciful ideas of being enlightened, and placing what they imagine to be an iniplicit confidence in that book, called the Bible. But I have reason to think, that by far the greater part of them know not what they believe, nor whereof they affirm.
I have for my own part, 1 can say, (but, it is to my own shame) been led away by general opinion in points that have not immediately concerned my salvation, without being able to substantiate my ideas either by scripture or reason. Under such circumstances, in respect to any point, I presume it is best to suspend my final judgment, until convinced by solid and manly argument.
I know it is vain to look for it from the scribes and. pharisees, who court the greeting of the people with uplifted eyes-who, loving to be called Rabbi, lie like an adder in the path, that bites the weary traveller, and prevents him from arriving at his desired home.
I now turn my attention, Mr. Editor, with permission, to your Magazine, as the best remaining source of any that I know (save the scriptures), to gain any substantial information; and with this view I should be happy to meet a candid and impartial solution of the word Heaven, as it occurs in holy writ.
I remain, &c. July 2, 1812.
THE FAMILIAR INSTRUCTOR.
6 AND yet, believe me (said my venerable companion), much depends on the manner of conveying moral and religious truth to the mind; to amuse whilst we instruct to excite the interest whilsć we convince the judgment-- is a point of some importance ! Your moralists, your theologians, your logicians, are too generally insufferably dry; and many a pious treatise on religion might be applied with considerable effect as a sleeping potion to a sick man.
“ It is a prevalent opinion, that the teachers of religion are inspired--and inspired they certainly seem to be with the potent spirit of Somnus.
“How pleasing was the teaching of Jesus !-how lively! how striking his manner! His parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Saniaritan display the deepest knowledge of the human heart, and were calculated to bring his hearers into the intended conclusion with an irresistible force--the feelings, the interest, and the judgment, are all brought at once into play.
. There is a class of authors whose aim is merely to amuse the vacant and fanciful reader--novelists, and the writers of romance, abound with incidents which war against all probability; they generally lay their scene in some extravagant age, which the better affords an unlimited scope for invention : or if they condescend to come down to our own times, their