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Doctor Priestley, in his later view of this subject, has not added much in point of clearness or consistency to the Socinian exposition. He confesses, however, that the “ literal meaning of our Lord's expressions” in the 56th verse was, that “ he had lived before Abraham," and that it was so considered by the Jews: but at the same time he contends that our Lord did not intend his words to be so understood : and that when he afterwards speaks of his priority to Abraham, his meaning is to be thus explained : “ that in a very proper sense of the words, he may be said to have been even before Abraham, the Messiah having been held forth as the great object of hope and joy for the human race, not only to Abraham, but even to his ancestors.". (Notes, &c. vol. iii. pp. 329, 330, 333, 334.) Such is what Dr. Priestley calls the proper sense of the words, BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM.
I have here given a very few instances, but such as furnish a fair specimen, of the mode of reasoning, by which those enlightened commentators to whom Mr. Belsham refers, have been enabled to explain away the direct and evident meaning of Scripture. I have adduced these instances, from the arguments which they have used relating to the pre-existence of Christ, as going to the very essence of their scheme of Christianity, (if such it can be called,) and as being some of those on which they principally rely. I have not scrupled to dwell thus long, upon a matter not necessarily connected with the subject of these discourses, as some benefit may be derived to the young student in divinity, (for whom this publication has been principally intended,) from exposing the hollowness of the ground, on which these high-sounding gentlemen take their stand, whilst they trumpet forth their own extensive knowledge, and the ignorance of those, who VOL. I.
differ from them. These few instances may serve to give him some idea, of the faimess of their
pretensions, and the soundness of their criticism. He may be still better able to form a judgment of their powers in scriptural exposition, when he finds upon trial, that the formulæ of interpretation, which have been applied to explain away the notion of Christ's pre-existence, from the passages that have been cited, may be employed with the best success in arguing away such a meaning, from any form of expression that can be devised.
Thus, for example, had it been directly asserted, that our Lord had existed for
existed for ages, before his appearance in this world: it is replied, all this is true, in the decree of God, but it by no means relates to an actual existence. Had Christ, as a proof of his having existed prior to his incarnation, expressly declared, that all things had been created by him : the answer is obvious-he must have been ordained by the divine mind, long before he came into being, as by him, it had been decreed, that the great moral creation, whereby a new people should be raised up to God, was to be wrought. Should he go yet farther, and affirm that he had resigned the Godlike station which he filled, and degraded himself to the mean condition of man: a ready solution is had for this also—he made no ostentatious display of his miraculous powers, but offered himself to the world like an ordinary man. If any stronger forms of expression should be used, (and stronger can scarcely be had, without recurring to the language of Scripture) they may all be disposed of in like
But should even all the varieties of critical, logical, and metaphysical refinement, be found in any case insufficient, yet still we are not to suppose the point completely given up. The modern Unitarian Commentator is not discomfited. He retires with unshaken fortitude within the citadel of his philosophic conviction, and under its impenetrable cover, bids defiance to the utmost force of his adversary's argument. Of this let Dr. Priestley furnish an instance in his own words. Endeavouring to prove, in opposition to Dr. Price, that the expressions in John, vi. 62, What, and if you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before? furnish no argument in favour of Christ's pre-existence, he uses the following remarkable language-that, “ though not satisfied with any interpretation of this extraordinary passage, yet, rather than believe our Saviour to have existed in any other state before the creation of the world, or to have left some state of great dignity and happiness when he came hither, he would have recourse to the old and exploded Socinian idea of Christ's actual ascent into heaven, or of his imagining that he had been carried up thither in a vision; which, like that of St. Paul, he had not been able to distinguish from a reality : nay, he would not build an article of faith, of such magnitude, on the correctness of John's recollection and representation of our Lord's language; and so strange and incredible does the hypothesis of a pre-existent state appear, that, sooner than admit it, he would suppose the whole verse to be an interpolation, or that THE OLD APOSTLE DICTATED ONE THING AND HIS AMANUENSIS WROTE ANOTHER.” (Letters to Dr. Price, pp. 57, 58, &c.)-Thus is completed the triumph of Unitarian philosophy over revelation: and thus is the charge of incredulity against the pretended philosopher of the present day refuted. For what is there too monstrous for his belief, if you except only the truths of the Gospel.
NO. II.--UNITARIAN OBJECTIONS TO THE RELIGIOUS OBSERV
ANCE OF STATED DAYS.
Page 3. (b) That the day, on which the Saviour of men laid down his life for their transgressions, should have attached to it any feelings of reverence, or should be in any respect distinguished from the number of ordinary days, has long been denied by different classes of dissenters from the established form; forgetting, that its celebration was designed, to awaken livelier feelings of devotion, by associating circumstances; and not reflecting, that the argument which went to prove, that no one day could possess a sanctity above another, should have carried them much farther, and have ended in the abolition of the Sabbath itself. The writer, however, already alluded to in the last number, has, in his answer to Mr. Wilberforce's most excellent and truly pious work on the present state of Religion, completely removed the charge of inconsistency, by directly asserting, that “Christianity expressly abolishes all distinction of days.” “To a true Chris. tian,” he observes, “every day is a sabbath, every place is a temple, and every action of life an act of devotion” _“ whatever is lawful or expedient upon any one day of the week, is, under the Christian dispensation, equally lawful and expedient on any other.” (Belsham's Review, &c. p. 20.)
Lest we should however imagine, that this writer means to impose upon Christians so severe a duty, as to require them to substitute for occasional acts of devotion, that unceasing homage, which the unbroken continuity of the Christian's Sabbath, and the ubiquity of his Temple, might seem to demand; he informs us, (p. 133.) that “a virtuous man is performing his duty to the Supreme Being, as really, and as acceptably, when he is pursuing the proper
business of life, or even when enjoying its innocent and decent amusements, as when he is offering direct addresses to him, in the closet, or in the Temple.” And thus we see the matter is rendered perfectly easy. A Christian may be employed through the entire of his life, in worshipping his God, by never once thinking of him, but merely pursuing his proper business or his innocent amusements. This, it is true, is a natural consequence from his first position; and gives to the original argument a consistency, which before it wanted. But is consistency of argument a substitute for Christianity? Or could the teacher of divinity at Hackney, have expected, that from such instructions, his pupils should not so far profit, as to reject not only Christianity, but many of them the public worship, and with it the recollection, of a God?-It may be worth while to enquire, what has been the fact, respecting the Students of the late Academy at Hackney: and, indeed, what is the state of all the Dissenting Academies throughout Great Britain into which the subverting principles of Unitarianism have made their way. Do any of this description now exist ?-And wherefore do they not?-But on this subject more in the Appendix.
NO. III.-ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE OF RE
Page 3. (c) There is no one article of the Christian faith, which, considered in itself, is more deserving of our closest attention, than that of our redemption by Jesus Christ. This is in truth, the very corner-stone of the fabric. Against this, accordingly, every framer of a new hypothesis directs his entire force. This once shaken, the whole structure falls in ruins. We therefore find the collect,