Thomas Belsham.

A vindication of certain passages in a discourse, on occasion of the death of Dr. Priestley, etc. online

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Online LibraryThomas BelshamA vindication of certain passages in a discourse, on occasion of the death of Dr. Priestley, etc. → online text (page 1 of 9)
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(Princeton 2^§eo%tc\Iitn Ik- was a practi-
cal CaU-inist. D'ni-oiu-se ou Occasion of Dr. Pritstley's Deatli, p. 18, note.
Hi: tlifre says, " I had occasionally such distress of mind, as it is not in my
" power to describe, and vhifh I still look back upon v,i\h horror."


among- the Calvinists many persons of great vlety, and
Worth of character, to wiiich, in his Discourse on the
lamented deatii of Dr. Priestley, lie was eager to bear his
testimony, in order to shew, tluvt wiiutever he thought of
the system, he was no enemy to the persons of tiiose who
profess it. If, in the warmth of his zeal to manifest his
cathoUcism, he has inadvertently over-stepped the limits
of perfect correctness, and has appeared to magnify the
t.Ucnts, or the virtues, of Calvinists, beyond their due
proportion, he hopes that they laiU forgive him thit
"wrong. He can assure them, that it was not his intention to
assert that Calvinists, as such, were wiser or better than
others, whose theoi'y of religion approached nearer to truth.
Much less did h£ mean to represent the excellence of their
character as owing to the peculiarities of the calvinistic
system. If Calvinists are (as, no doubt, many of them are)
pious towards God, and benevolent to men, it must be
owing to some powerful countervailing influences which
happily check the baneful tendency of their principles ;
and particularly to those obvious appearances of nature,
and those plain declarations of the divine benevolence in
the scriptures, which excite a hope, even in spite of them-
selves, that God is not altogether so cruel, nor their fellow-
creatures quite so detestable, as their gloomy system would
make them believe.

Another reason, why the author felt himself disposed
to give these Letters a more extensive circulation was,
that it not only afforded him an opportunity of vindicating
the insulted character of Dr. Priestley, but, wliich he
apprehends of still more importance to the public, of illus-
trating distinctly the nature of his new and unanswerable
argument, in favour of the simple humanity of Christ,
from the testimony of primitive ecclesiastical writers, as
stated in his History of Early Opinions, an argument which
is, generally, either misunderstood, or misrepresented.


The author of the Letters to which these are intended
as a reply, has mixed up his severe charges of ignorance, of
misrepresentation, of gross error, of perfect inadvertence,
and of asserting things pi'ecisely the reverse of acknow-
ledged facts, or in other words, of palpable falsehood,
with much of the forms of personal civility and respect,
almost even to nausea. In this particular, the author of
tiiese Letters, indignant as he could not but occasionally
feel at the groundless charges which were alleged, and
at the lofty and triumphant tone in which they were
often pressed, did not think it necessary to imitate his
correspondent. But while he considered himself as jus-
tified in stating plainly, strongly, and pointedly, the futility
of the writer's arguments, he shall regret, if he has in any
instance been betrayed into expressions which may be
thought inconsistent with civility and good manners. He
feels no ill-will against his opponent, for whose character
he entertains a sincere respect, and who must be allowed,
in his animadversions, to have discovered no small portion
of ability, and controversial dexterity. Nevertheless, I do
not hesitate to avow, that the design of these Letters is
to shew, that this gentleman has undertaken to write upon
a subject which he has not sufficiently studied ; that he has
accumulated charges which he has not been able to sub-
stantiate ; and that he has, without sufficient ground,
attacked, I might say defamed, the characters of the
illustrious and venerable dead. How far this design has
been accomplished, the judicious and attentive reader
must decide.

What impression these animadversions may make upon
the mind of the gentleman who gave occasion to them,
it is not for the author to judge. But if that gentleman
should, upon mature consideration, be convinced, that his
strictures are erroneous, and his charges unfounded, he
will, no doubt, feel himself bound in honour and duty to
retract, and modify his publication accordingly. At any


rate, the least that can be expected from him is, that lie
will not, if convinced of his mistake, persistm bearing /alse
witness against his neighbour. As a young writer, and a
young' man, it will be no disparagement to him to acknow-
ledge an error, and to add to his other good qualities a
proper degree of self-diffidence. This will induce him for
the future to pause a little, and attentively to survey his
ground, before he alleges unqualified charges of ignorance,
and palpable misrepresentations of plain facts, against
persons whose means of information, and whose character
for diligence, perseverance, impartiality, and accuracy of
research, are, at least, equal to his own, and who have,
perhaps, devoted as great a number of years to the patient
investigation of truth, as he has lived in the world,



Vindication of the Author's statement of the Calvinis-

tic systen) 1


Abhorrence of Calvlnlsim, consistent with a favourable
opinion of many who hold that unscriptural system. —
Unjust insinuations repelled. — Concerning the per-
sonal presence of Christ with his Apostles after his
ascension 10


Origen's character defended. — Review of the contro-
versy between Dr. Priestley and Dr. Horsley. — Ter-
tullian's unequivocal testimony to the Unitarianism of
the great body of unlearned Christians 25


Charge of inadvertency and gross misrepresentation
repelled. — Progress of error concerning the person of
Christ stated. — Misrepresentation of Dr. Priestley's
sentiments corrected 40

The charge against Dr. Priestley's character stated and
repelled. — Dr. Priestley and his accuser equally mis-
taken in a p.'issage from Chrysostom. — The nature
and conduct of Dr. I'liest ley's argument represented
and vindicated. — Conclusion 59


Containing an Extract from a publication of the Hev.
Theophilus Lindsey, which expresses the judgment
of that learned writer, concerning the issue of the
controversy between Dr. Priestley and Dr. Horsley,
and concerning the importance of Dr. Priestley's
History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ... 74


Remarks upon the alterations and concessions in the
second edition of the Letters to Mr. B - 79



\ indication of the Author's statement of t!ie Calvuiistic system.

X HE Rev. John Pye Smith, one of the Tutors of
the respectable Academical Institution at Homerton,
has lately addressed to me a volume of Letters,
containing animadversions upon some passages in
my late Discourse upon the lamenteu Death of
Dr. Priestley ; written upon the whole with much
personal civility, and perhaps with as much candour
as the spirit of his theological system will admit.
The truth or falsehood of that system I am not now
disposed to contest ; but some of the author's obser-
vations appear to retjuirc a cursoiy notice : especial-
ly as they are delivered with a tone of authority, an
air of triumph, and a parade of learning, which has
a tendency to impose upon ignorant and superficial

This gentleman distinctly charges me with mis-
representing the calvirjistic system : His words are,
" 1 never yet heard of the Calvinist who would adopt


" your statement as his own creed*." And again,
" Such men as Voltaire and Paine, or even charac-
" ters of far more estimable fame, can, with all the
" ease imaginable, by the combined aid of miscon-
" ception, perverse mis-statement, and sparkling-
" witticisms, so twist and entangle a metaphysical or
" moral subject, and that in a few words, or sentences,
" as to require many pages of accurate writing, and
" much labour of patient reading, to unravel the
" crossing perplexities. This appears to me to be
" precisely the case with your picture of Calvinismf."
The reader will smile to see to what expressions
this pompous description applies. My words are,
" The doctrine which the apostle taught was the
" gospel of the grace of God. ^'ery remote indeed
" from that system which in modern times has been
•' dignified with the title of Gospel Doctrine ; a
" system which teaches that all mankind are doomed
" to eternal misery for Adam's sin, with the excep-
" tion of a few who are chosen by mere good plca-
"•' sure to everlasting life|." The reason why my
name is introduced in connection with those of
Voltaire and Paine, is sufficiently obvious to all who
are versed in the arts of theological controversy ;
but it would require no small portion of intellectual
perspicacity to discern the iireche resemblance be-
tween the plain and brief statement which I have
made of calvinistic doctrine, almost in the words
of its own symbols, and the wisconcc/itio7i^ perverse
vns-stateine7it.) mid sparkling ivitticisms^ with which

* Lettci-s to Mr. B. p. 16. t Ibid. p. 13, 14.

i Fiiiit'i-al Discourse for Dr. Pi-icsllt y, p. 26.


these champions of infidelity arc said to uvist mid
t'ntangle a moral or metajihysiical isubject.

My generous accuser, however, exculpates me
from the " charge of intentional misrepresentation,"
and very charitably insinuates, that what he calls my
caricature of Calvinism is the result of mere igno-
rance. Unfortunately, I cannot avail myself of this
obliging apology. Having been educated a Calvinist,
in the midst of Calvinists, and having been fully
instructed in the creeds and catechisms, and inodes
of worship of this " straitest sect of our religion,"
I cannot plead ignorance of the doctrines which I
and hundreds more were taught, and believed.

The worthy Remarker next proceeds to correct
my supposed misconccjition^ by stating, in form, and
as one having authority, in his second Letter, what
those " sentiments are, which in their aggregate"
he is pleased to call " Calvinism," and in which, he-
pro fesses " to glory*." And truly. Sir, I must
acknowledge that 1 was not a little surprised at the
perusal of this singular, prolix, and mysterious con-
fession. Yet if this reverend gentleman, who does
not appear to be deficient either in understanding
or learning, can, at this lime of day, seriously believe
all that he sets down to be believed, he has my fret-
consent, and much may it contribute to his edifica-
tion. Far be it from me to wish to abridge him of
a single article of his capacious faith, or to deprive
him of one particle of his glory. The only question
between us is, whether this faith be truly calvinistir

* I.cltiis to Mr. B. p. 16.


And to this the worthy author himself has supplied
the proper answer. « It is acknowledged," says he,
" that this view of the subject is different from that
" which most calvinistic writers have given*." This
concession is sufficient, and precludes all further
observation upon the subject.

Now, Sir, as this gentleman has been pleased to
state that doctrine as Calvinism, which the majority
of Calvinists do not approve, I will proceed to ex-
hibit that Calvinism which Calvinists do approve, and
the belief of which is regarded by most of them as
essential to salvation. And in order to this I shall
not, like my learned correspondent, have recourse to
the writings of the Greek or the Roman classics ;
nor shall I inquire whether the great philosophers
and moralists of antiquity, had they been now living,
wovild or would not have been the disciples of John
Calvinf. I shall not even make my principal appeal
to the Institutes of the celebrated reformer himself,
nor yet to the still more authentic documents of the
venerable Synod of Dort \. For the sake of brevity,
I shall bring my proofs from that well-known, and
highly approved symbol of the calvinistic faith, the
Assembly's Catechism, which, as a summaiy of
doctrine, is a model of simplicty, perspicuity, and

* Letters to Mr. B. p. 22. Note.

t See Letters, p. 33, 31. Wlietlicr tJic^e men woiilrl, as my Coi -
respomUnt imaffines, lia\e bieii c/mnneil witli the CaUiiiistic system, I
l^iiuot pi-etend to say; that they would have bi-eii nafuhinlicd at it, I most
Certainly Ix-lieve.

X This famous Sj-nod was assembli d A. D. 1619, for the exjiress purpose
of deciding the celebrated quimmarlicular eontroversy between tlie Cal-
Tinists and the Anninians, which at iliat time r.iged in Holland. It wa?
attended by di-puties from most of (he reformed churches.


precision ; and which used formerly, and I presume
still continues, to be taught with great assiduity,
to children and young persons in the calvinistic
churches. To this might also be added, if neces-
sary, the Hymns and Spiritual Songs of Dr. Watts,
the crude and injudicious compositions of iiis ju-
"venile years, the publication of which, it is well
known, was the subject of deep regret in maturer
life, but Avhich are to this day used in the public
devotions of many calvinistic churches, and admired
as the standard of sound doctrine and of a devotional
spirit : and which in fact have done more to fix the
taint of Calvinism in young and impressible minds,
than all the controversial treatises that ever were
written. I believe that the gentlenran who has done
me the favour to animadvert upon my Sermon, will
not object to the authorities to which I appeal. If
he does, I will tell him plainly, that what I mean
by Calvinism is not a system of abstruse subtleties,
which may be maint;vined by a few speculative men,
and which 77iost Calvinists never heard of, but that
code of doctrine which thousands and tens of thou-
sands collect froiTi the catechisms which they learn,
and from the hymns which they sing, and which
they ivaturally suppose to be the sincere opinions of
tliose who instruct them in these symbols, and who
guide them in their devotions.

The Assembly's Catechism teaches, in answer
to the seventh question, that, " the decrees of God
" are his eternal purpose according to the counsel
" of his will, whereby for his own glory he hath
" fore-ordained iv/iatsoever comes to pass."
* 1


From this it evidently follows, that the fall oF
man is one of those events which was ordained fov
the glory of God.

We are further taught, in reply to the sixteenth
question, " that the covenant being made with Adam,
" not only for himself, but for his posterity ; all
" mankind, descending from him by ordinary gene-

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Online LibraryThomas BelshamA vindication of certain passages in a discourse, on occasion of the death of Dr. Priestley, etc. → online text (page 1 of 9)