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CHAP. VI.

ON MR. BELSHAM'S PREFACE TO HIS CALM INQUIRY INTO

THE SCRIPTURE DOCTRINE CONCERNING THE PERSON OF

CHRIST.

The author of the Calm Inquiry.—His account of his conversion to Unitarianism.-

Observations on that account.--The Theological Professorship at Daventry.The Professor's previous state of mind.—His transition of sentiment not a subject of surprize.—Remarks on his plan of Theological tuition,—and on its effect upon young and unprepared minds.

The author of the Calm Inquiry is respectable for his age, his knowledge, and his talents, for the amenity of his manners in social life, and for the variety, the copiousness, and the agreeableness of his conversation. What he is as a professed disciple and minister of Him“ who came into the world to save sinners,” is a question too awful for human decision: it will be determined in its own time by the RIGHTEOUS JUDGE, from whom “ the Lord grant that he may find mercy in that day!” But we all participate the public right to judge of his merits as a divine, provided that we form our judgment with candour and integrity, and express it with decorum and respect. His sentiments on the most important subjects that can occupy the intellect of man, he has

repeatedly given to the world, with an openness and boldness, if not unrivalled, yet certainly not exceeded. He cannot but approve the same frankness and zeal in others. If our most serious consideration will not allow us to acquiesce in his decisions, and approve his unmitigated language;* if we cannot regard him as an enlightened defender of the gospel, and an ardent friend to the best interests of mankind; no choice remains for us but to lament the misapplication of his zeal and abilities; and, by “speaking forth the words of truth and soberness,” to oppose what our convictions oblige us to regard as ruinous error.

This author has favoured us with an account of the progress and maturation of his own Unitarianism ; t upon which, since he has himself thus opened the case before the world, it cannot be deemed uncandid or indelicate to offer some remarks.

Without any disposition to withhold due honour from the conscientiousness which led the Theological Tutor at Daventry to resign his office in 1789, it may be doubted whether the sentiments of the Professor in 1781, as he has here described them, were not even then inconsistent with “ the design of the appointment.” We can learn that design from nothing so satisfactorily as from the

* See Note [A] at the end of this Chapter. + See Note [B] at the end of this Chapter.

Will of the Founder, which specifies the purpose of the bequest in these words : “My will is, that my said trustees, and those who shall succeed them as hereinafter directed, do take care that the said students be well instructed in the TRU E Gospel doctrines, ACCORDING As the same are explained in the Assembly's Catechism.” Now I am sure that the honourable mind of Mr. Belsham will admit, that no man could act up to the spirit and unquestionable design of this testamentary appointment, who was not strictly and in good faith a believer of the doctrines asserted in the Assembly's Catechism. He will not affirm that, if the Trustees were knowingly to appoint or to continue an Arminian, a Pelagian, or an Arian in the office of Divinity Tutor on this foundation, an upright man could accept or hold it under such unfaithful connivance. Neither will he maintain that integrity of conscience would be satisfied by a Tutor's professing to “instruct” in doctrines which he did not believe; or by his making use of a text-book, on which his lectures, if sincere, must have been in the style of reprehension and contradiction.

Though, at the time referred to, the Professor was “ a firm believer in the pre-existence of Christ,” it does not appear that he held the proper Deity of Christ: but, on the contrary, it does appear that he was a Semi-Arian, with some remaining inclination towards a theory of which he now declares that, supposing one explication of it, “ it involves an absurdity too gross to be allowed by any considerate mind,” while, upon another interpretation, it " is perfectly similar to that which all Arians, Socinians, and even Unitarians have always maintained, and is in fact giving up the deity of the Son and the Spirit.”

That a mind in this state should be dissatisfied and Auctuating, is agreeable to experience and to all rational expectation. The transition from Arianism to the theory termed Unitarian, is not surprising or unnatural. The principal gist of the question between the two schemes is, in which rank of creatures the Redeemer is to be placed : and it can scarcely have failed to occur to a thinking person that, of all possible orders of created intelligences, the difference between the utmost extremes is but as nothing compared with the disparity between any creature and the Infinite God. Besides, the bold hand of Unitarianism sweeps away some difficulties which press heavily on the Arian scheme: and, as to the habit of mind and feeling which each hypothesis finds most congenial to its moral influence, how nearly that is identical in each case, has been very well evinced by the universal connection and union of Arian and Socinian or Unitarian congregations and ministers, throughout the kingdom. The fact of this transition from the former to the latter has been so often exhibited, that it has seldom or never excited surprize; and it has been more usually a matter of expectation by friends and observers. Indeed the Arianism which crept into the dissenting churches in England during the earlier part of the eighteenth century, has generally become absorbed in the modish Unitarianism of the present day.-On these grounds, I

* Calm Inq. p. 503

presume to think that our Inquirer's “ entire surrender of the faith in which he had been educated” was by no means worthy of being recorded as an extraordinary occurrence.

The learned writer favours us with an account of the method, which to him " appeared most eligible for conducting the minds of his pupils in this Inquiry." I venture to express some doubt whether the plan described was adapted to its purpose, and likely to produce a just result. The selection and arrangement of texts was certainly, so far as it went, a suitable means; provided a due regard were had to the studying of each in its proper place and connection. But to throw down before a company of inexperienced youths, a regular set of rival and discordant

expositions, “ in general without any additional, or at least, doctrinal, comment of the compiler's own, appears to me to have been a method not well calculated to lead into the path of convincing evidence and well ascertained truth. It might excite party feeling, wordy disputation, unholy

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