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Unitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches online

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days is now mouldering in forgetfulness, the achievements of our great
astronomer are stiU fresh in the veneration of his countrymen, and
they carry him forward on the stream of time with a reputation ever
gathermg, and the triumphs of a distinction that will never die. . . .
I cannot forbear to do honor to the unpretending greatness of Newton,
than whom I know not if ever there Hglited on the face of om' Avorld,
one in the character of whose admirable genius so much force and
so much humiHty were more attractively blended. — Dr. Thomas
Chalmers : Astronomical 'Discourses, Discom-se 2 ; in Select Works,
vol. iv. pp. 370, 372.

If Christianity be not in then' estimation true [if, in the estimation
of absolute u^ibehevers, Christianity be not true], yet is there not at
least a presumption in its favor, sufficient to entitle it to a serious
examination, from its having been embraced, and that not blindly and
imphcitly, but upon fuU inqmry and deep consideration, by Bacon
and Ivlilton and Locke and Newton, and much the greater pai t of those
who, by the reach of their understandings or the extent of tl eir luiow-
ledge, and by the freedom too of their minds, and their daring to



combat existing jDrejudices, have called forth the respect and admira-
tion of mankind ? . . . . Through the bomity of Providence, the more
widely spreading poison of infidelity has in om- days been met with
more numerous and more jDOwerfal antidotes. One of these has been
ah'eady pointed out ; and it should be matter of farther gTatitude to
every real Christian, that, in the very place on which modern infidehty
had displayed the standard of victory, a warrior in the service of reh-
gion, a man of the most acute discernment and profoimd research, has
been raised up by Providence to quell their triumph. It is almost
superfluous to state, that Sir WilHam Jones is here meant, who, from
the testimony borne to his extraordinary talents by Sh' John Shore,
in his first address to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, appears to have
been a man of most extraordinary genius and astonishing erudition. —
WlLLiAiNi WiLBERFORCE : Practical View, chap. vii. sect. 3.

With the exception of Lord Bacon, the men here named, whose moral ,
and intellectual qualities rank them so high in the scale of humanity, and
whose attachment to or defence of the Christian faith is regarded as pre-
sumptive evidence in its behalf, cherished, as is now well known, Unitai'ian
opinions. To all who share in Wilberforce's admiration at seeing those men
of master-minds sitting reverentially at the feet of Jesus, and who agree with
him in the inference which he has drawn, the following remark by the same
wi'iter, in immediate connection, will scarcely be regarded in any other light
than as inconsistent and illogical, if not unjust: "In the course which we
lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity, Unitarianism
is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, ... a stage on the journey, where some-
times a person indeed finally stops, but where not unfrequently he only
pauses for a while, and then pursues his progress." So far fi-om being true
that the adoption of Unitarian principles generally leads to infidelity, as is
implied in the charge adduced, that, with all its faults and shortcomings^
probabl}'- no denomination in Christendom has been more faithful to its pro-
fessions, or, if the number of its adherents be taken into account, has done
so much in presenting the evidences of Christianity in a clear and cogent
point of view, than that of Unitarians. Can Orthodoxy, with all its array
of truly distinguished writers, place the names of any defenders of our
common faith above those of Nathaniel Lardner, Joseph Priestley, William
EUery Channing, and Andrews Norton ? We mean not in respect to their
talents or their genius, — though they were unquestionably men of powerful
intellect, — but merely as to the amount or the worth of their services as
"apologists" for Christianity.

This year [1698], Thomas Firmin, a famous citizen of London,
died. He was in great esteem for promoting many charitable designs ;
for looking after the poor of the city, and setting them to work ; for
raising great siuns for schools and hospitals, and, indeed, for charities


of all sorts, private and public. He had such credit with the richest
citizens, that he had the command of great wealth, as oft as there was
occasion for it ; and he laid out his own time chiefly in advancing all
such designs. These things gained him a great reputation. He was
called a Socinian, but was really an Arian. . . . Archbishop Tillotson,
and some of the bishops, had Kved in great friendship with Mr. Firmin,
whose charitable temper they thought it became them to encourage. —
Bishop Burnet: History of his Own Time, vol. iii. p. 292; Lond.

I was exceedingly struck at reading the following Life ; having long
settled it in my mind, that the entertaining wrong notions concerning
the Truiity was inconsistent with real piety. But I cannot argue
against matter of fact. I dare not deny that Mr. Firmin was a pious
man, although his notions of the Trinity were quite erroneous. —
John Wesley : Preface to an Extract from the Ldfe of Thomas
Firmin ; in Works, vol. vii. p. 574.

[William Whiston] has all his life been cultivating piety and -virtue
and good learning ; rigidly constant himself in the pubhc and private
duties of religion, and always promoting in others virtue and such
learning as he thought would conduce most to the honor of God, by
manifesting the greatness and wisdom of his works. He has given
the world sufficient proofs that he has not misspent his time, by very
useful works of philosophy and mathematics : he has appHed one to
the expHcation of the other, and endeavored by both to display the
glory of the great Creator. — Bishop Hare : Study of the Scriptures ;
in Sparks'' s Collection of Essays and Tracts, vol. ii. p. 163.

Newton and Locke were esteemed Socinians; Lardner was an
avowed one ; Clarke and Whiston were declared Arians ; Bull and
Waterland were professed Athanasians. Who will take upon him to
say, that these men were not equal to each other in probity and Scrip-
tural knowledge ? And, if that be admitted, surely we ought to learn
no other lesson from the diversity of then' opinions, except that of
perfect moderation and good-\rill towards all those who happen to
differ from ourselves. — Bishop Watson : Appendix to Theological
Tracts, vol. vi.

I do actually feel a constant and deep sense of your goodness to
me ; and, which is much more, of yom" continual readiness to serve the
pubhc with those distinguished abilities which God has been pleased to
give you, and which have rendered your writings so great a blessing
to the Clmstian w^crld. ... In the interpretation of particular texts,


and the manner of stating particular doctrines, good men and good
friends may have different ajDprehensions : but you always propose your
sentiments with such good humor, modesty, candor, and frankness, as
is very amiable and exemplary ; and the grand desfre of spreading
righteousness, benevolence, prudence, the fear of God, and a heavenly
temper and conversation, so plainly appears, particularly in this volume
of sermons, that, w^ere I a much stricter Calvinist than I am, I should
honor and love the author, though I did not personally know him. —
Dr. Philip Doddridge : Letter to Dr. JVathaniel Lardner ; apud
Kippis's Life of Lardner, Appendix No. 8.

Numberless tributes of respect have been paid by all sects of Christians
to this indefatigable writer and good man.

I must contend, that the " Essay on Man, his Frame, his Duty, and
his Expectations " [by David Hartley], stands forward as a specimen
almost unique of elaboi*ate theorizing, and a monument of absolute
beauty, in the perfection of its dialectic abihty. Li this respect, it has,
to my mind, the spotless beauty and the ideal proportions of some
Grecian statue. — Thomas De Qutncey : Literary Reminiscences,
vol i. pp. 169, 170.

This may well be regarded as high praise, coming, as it does, from a
writer so able, but yet so prejudiced, as De Quincey; who introduces it by
saying that " Coleridge was profoundly ashamed of the shallaio Unitarianism
of Hartley," and who takes frequent opportunity, in his writings, of speak-
ing contemptuously of" Socinians " and " Socinianism," as well as of those
divines in the church of England whom he accuses of favoring Unitarian

Were I to pubHsh an account of silenced and ejected ministers, I
should be strongly tempted to insert Mr. Lindsey in the Hst which he
mentions in liis " Apology " with so much veneration. He certainly
deserves as much respect and honor as any one of them for the part
he has acted. Perhaps few of them exceeded him in learning and
piety. I venerate him as I would any of your confessors. As to his
particular sentiments, they are nothing to me. An honest, pious man,
who makes such a sacrifice to truth and conscience as he has done, is
a glorious character, and deserves the respect, esteem, and veneration
of every true Christian. — Job Orton : Letters, vol. ii. p. 159 ; as
quoted by Belsham, in his Memoirs of Theophilus Lindsey, p. 41.

It is said by some writers, that Ortox, who was the assistant and friend
of Dr. Doddridge, became, m his latter years, an Arian. In the above-cited


paragraph, he refers to the circumstance of Lindsey's resignation of the
vicarage of Catterick in Yorl^ishire, the advantages of wliich he renounced,
on account of his liaving embraced the principles of Unitarianism, though
he had no prospect of finding means of subsistence.

Reverend and dear Sir, — Although I am far separated from you,
and possess but few opportunities of intercourse "with you, yet my
heart ever contemplates you mth affection and gratitude. Nor, in-
deed, can it be otherwise ; for, while I feel myself surrounded with
comforts, I cannot, I trust, ever forget the man to whose kindness so
many of them are owing. . . . Whatever differences of opinion may
exist between us on religious subjects, I hope and trust that I shall be
enabled to imitate that sincerity of soul, of which you have given me
and the world so bright an example. My heart, I can truly say, is ahve
to the duties and the importance of Christianity, and I trust that I am
not altogether a stranger to its pleasures. — "VVm. Winterbotham :
Extract from a Letter to the Rev. Theophilus lAndsey,

Mr. Winterbotham was minister of a Calvinistic congregation at
Plymouth Dock, who, under the Pitt administration, suffered four years'
imprisonment on a false charge of having uttered seditious language. In
this letter, Avritten several years afterwards, he alludes to the sympathy and
kirkdness which Lindsey had manifested towards him during his confine-
ment. See Belsham's Memoirs of Lindsey, pp. 358-61.

Though of a sentiment in religion very different, I must say that
Lindsey, Jebb, Hammond, Disney, and others, who have sacrificed
then' preferment [in the church of England] to the jDeace of their own
minds, are honorable men deser^^ng of all praise. — David Siivipson :
Plea for Religion, p. 165.

Meek, gentle, and humane ; acute, eloquent, and profoundly skilled
in poHtics and philosophy, — take him for all and all, the quaKties of
his heart, with the abihties of his head, and you may rank Price among
the first ornaments of his age. . . . Posterity will do him the justice
of which the proud have robbed him, and snatch him from the calum-
niators, to place him m the temple of personal honor, high among
the benefactors of the human race. — ViCESlMUS Knox : Spirit of
Despotism ; in Works, vol. v. p. 197.

The religious tenets of Dr. Priestley appear to me erroneous in the
extreme ; but I should be sorry to suffer any difference of sentiment
to diminish my sensibility to virtue, or my admiration of genius. From
him the poisoned arrow will fall pointless. His enhghtened and active
mind, his unwearied assiduity, the extent of his researches, the light hs


has poured into almost every department of science, "will be tlie admira-
tion of that period when the greater part of those who have favored,
or those who have opposed him, will be alike forgotten. Distinguished
merit will ever rise superior to oppression, and will draw lustre from
reproach. The vapors w^hich gather round the rising smi, and follow
it in its coiu-se, seldom fail, at the close of it, to form a magnificent
theatre for its reception, and to invest mth variegated tints, and with

a softened effulgence, the luminary which they cannot liide

Though I disapprove of his [Dr. Price's] rehgious principles, I feel no
hesitation in affirming, in spite of the fi-antic and unprincipled abuse
of Bm'ke, that a more ardent and enlightened friend of his comitry
never fived than that venerable patriarch of fr-eedom. — R. Hall :
TFork^, vol. ii. pp. 23, and 99, 100.

Thus generously and eloquently does Robert Hall, the large-hearted
Christian, defend the virtues and the reputation of the " Socinian " Priestley
and the "Arian " Price. But the same Hall, as the narrow-minded Cahdnist,
in a Letter dated Feb. 5, 1816 (Works, vol. iii. p. 256), feels no hesitation in
putting " Socinians" on a level with "professed infidels," and inferring from
John vi. 40 and 1 John v. 12, that they will be excluded from the realms
of heaven. Alas for some of the best and most devout of men, if superior
virtue adorning the character in private life, and eminent endowments
devoted to the public good, be passed by as altogether worthless in the great
judgment-day, and nought avail but a belief in dogmas which have been
regarded by their rejecters as dishonoring God and libelling humanity!
May we not say, in the language of Hall himself (ii. p. 100), where he is
vindicating his eulogy of Priestley, that " if any thing could sink Orthodoxy
into contempt, it would be its association with such Gothic barbaiity of
sentiment" ?

Let Dr. Priestley be confuted where he is mistaken. Let him be
exposed where he is superficial. Let him be repressed where he is
dogmatical. Let him be rebulied where he is censorious. But let not
his attainments be depreciated, because they are numerous, almost
without a parallel. Let not his talents be ridiculed, because they are
superlatively great. Let not his morals be vilified, because they
are con-ect without austerity, and exemplary without ostentation ;
because they present, even to common observers, the innocence of a
hermit and the simpHcity of a patriarch ; and because a philosophic
eye will at once discover in them the deep-fixed root of virtuous prin-
ciple, and the soKd trunli of virtuous habit I have visited him,

as I hope to visit him again, because he is an unaffected, miassuming,
and very interesting conipanion. I will not, in consequence of oui


different opinions, either impute to him the e\dl which he does not, or
depreciate in him the good which he is allowed to do. I v.ill not
debase my miderstanding, nor prostitute my honor, by encom'aging
the clamors which have been raised against him, in ^oilgar minds, by
certain persons, who would have done well to read before they wrote,
to understand before they dogmatized, to examine before they con-
demned. Readily do I give him up, as the bold defender of heresy
and schism, to the well-founded objections of his antagonists ; but I
cannot think his religion insincere, while he worships one Deity, in the
name of one Sa\iour. ... I know that his virtues, in private hfe, are
acknowledged by his neighbors, admu-ed by his congregation, and
recorded almost by the unanimous suffrage of his most powerful and
most distinguished antagonists. — Dr. Samuel Paee, : Works, vol. iii.
pp. 317; 282-4.

In a letter to Archbishop Magee, from -which we shall agam take occasion
to quote, Dr. Parr says that there Avere several Unitarians with whom he
thought it an honor to be acquainted; avows " the sincere rpspect " which
he felt " for their intellectual powers, their literary attainments, and their
moral worth;" and concludes by making honorable mention of the distin-
guished writers among the Polish Socinians, called the Fratres Poloni^ and,
amongst others, of the following English Unitarians: Dr. Nathaniel Lardner,
Dr. John Jebb, Dr. John Taylor, Theophilus Lindsey, Thomas Belsham, the
Duke of Grafton, Newcome Cappe, Charles Berry, E. Cogan, James Yates,
J. G. Kobberds, and Dr. William Shepherd. In reference to Belsham's work
on the Epistles of Paul, Dr. Parr, m the Bibliotheca Parriana, p. 81, says :
" I do not entirely agree with him upon some doctrinal points ; but I ought to
commend the matter, style, and spirit of the Preface ; and, in my opinion,
the translation does great credit to the diligence, judgment, eruditWi, and
piety of my much-respected friend."

The more fervent admirers of Thomas De Quincey may place but little
reliance on the testimony of Dr. Parr, as a Trinitarian, to the excellent
qualities of mind and heart which he attributes to the English Unitarians;
for, in an Essay which we think is marked alike by its exceeding cleverness
and its bitter partisanship, the writer says (Philosophical Writers, vol. ii.
p. 272), that Parr " has left repeated evidence, apart from his known lean-
ing to Socinian views, that he had not in any stage of his life adopted any
system at all which could properly class him with the believers in the
Trinity." But the Rev. William Field, one of his biographers, who was
intimately acquainted with him, and who was himself a Unitarian minister,
says (vol. ii. p. 268) that Parr declared he was not a Unitarian. Dr. ""^ohn
Johnstone, another of his biographers, states (vol. vi. p. G85) that he had
heard Parr repeatedly declare that his notions of the Trinity were pre-
cisely those of the profound Bishop Butler, author of the Analogv of
Religion; in the Letter to Archbishop Magee previously referred t< ^f


Parr requests his Grace to do him the justice to observe, that he " meant
not, directly or indirectly, to defend the heretical opinions adopted by any
of the worthies whom" he had "enumerated;" and, in a note to his
Dedication of the Warburtonian Tracts (Works, voL iii. p. 387), he says,
" I by no means assent to the opinions which Dr. Priestley has endeavored
to establish in his History of the Corruptions of Christiauity." (See also
Sermon 40, in Works, vol. vi. p. 464.)

Notwithstanding his eccentricities, his displays of vanity, his want of
common prudence, and his political and theological antipathies, no one who
has read the records of him published by Mr. Field and Dr. Johnstone can
doubt, that, besides being, what he unquestionably was, a benevolent and
pious man, a warm friend of popular education, and a bold advocate for
Christian charity and universal toleration, he was also sincere and truthful
in his professions. De Quincey himself, p. 293, — though he qualifies his
praise by saying that, " in a degree which sometimes made him not a good
man," he was "the mere football of passion," — is forced to sum up the
appreciation of his character by the remark, that, "as amoral being. Dr.
Parr was a good and conscientious man." May we not, therefore, reason-
ably conclude, that, when the " conscientious " curate of Hatton affirms
that he did not hold the leading doctrine Avhich distinguishes Unitarians
from their fellow-Christians, he is quite worthy of our credence? And is
not the testimony of this distinguished Episcopalian to the intellectual,
moral, and religious character of English Unitarians deserving of high con-
sideration, in opposition to the attempts that have been so often made to
take from them " the jcAvel of their souls," — their " good name " ?

If ever there was a wiiter whose wisdom is made to be useful in
the time of need, it is IMrs. Barbauld. No morahst has ever more
exactly touched the point of the greatest practicable pm-ity, ^^•ithout
being lost in exaggeration, or sinking into meanness. ... It is the
pri^ilege of such excellent ^\Titers to command the sj-mpathy of
the distant and unborn. It is a delightful part of then- fame ; and
no WTiter is more entitled to it than Mrs. Barbauld. — Sir James
Mackintosh: Letter to Mrs. John Taylor, JVorwich; in Memoirs
of Ms Life, vol. i. pp. 441-2.

We have taken for granted that Sir James was orthodox as to the doc-
trine of the Trinity ; but, if otherwise, as some of his expressions recorded
in the Memoirs would seem to imph'-, his opinion of the moral influence
of Mrs. Barbauld's writings may not be the less just, W^hatever were his
religious views, he unquestionably combined in his character the qualities
of philosopher, patriot, moralist, and Christian.

I sit do\\Ti to thank your Grace for your Idnd attention in sending
me the " Improved Version of the New Testament." ... I give due
praise to the Committee for thek Introduction to this work : it is


written -vsitli the sincerity becoming a Cluistian, and "witli tlie erudition
becoming a translator and a commentator on so impoi-tant a book. —
Bishop Watson : Letter to the Duke of Grafton ; in Life of Wcdsonj
pp. 492-3.

It is a well-known foct that Thomas Belsham was the principal editor
of this work. Notwithstanding all that has been said of it by orthodox wri-
ters as the representative of Unitarian interpretations, neither the version,
■which was founded on that of Archbishop Newcome, nor the notes, however
valuable, have been regarded by Unitarians in general as an authority
binding on them.

My previous impressions of his [Dr. Lant Carpenter's] amiable and
upright character have been strengthened by the perusal of his work
[entitled, "An Examination of Charges against Unitarians and Uni-
tarianism"]. His candor, uitegrity, and good temper, besides his
intellectual ability, give to his WTitings an immense advantage over the
imbecile arrogance, the rash cnidities, and the still more dishonorable
artifices, of some persons on whom he has felt himself called to ani-
madvert. — John Pye Smith : Scripture Testimony, vol. ii. p. 476,
fourth edition.

Dr. Smith's concluding remarks evidently refer, in particular, to Arch-
bishop Magee, whose Postscript to his work on the Atonement is dishonorably
distinguished by the foulest injustice to the character and talents of English

When we see a fellow-man and fellow-sinner, whose character is
adorned, not only with blameless morals and with those honorable
decencies of life to which the world pays homage, but with imtiring
activit)' in excellent deeds, warm-hearted beneficence, exemplary virtue
in all the walks of life, and the clearest evidence, to those who jjossess
full and close opportunities for the observation, of constant " walking
with God," not in the solemnities of pubhc worship only, but in the
family and the most retu'ed j^rivacy ; and when this habit of life has
been sustained, with unaiFected simpHcity and uncompromising con-
stancy, during a life long, active, and exposed to searching observation ;
— when such a character is presented to our \iew, it would warrant
the suspicion of an obtuse imderstanding, or, what is worse, a cold
heart, not to resemble Barnabas, " who, when he came and saw the
grace of God, was glad ; for he was a good man, and fuU of the Holy
Spmt and of faith." . . . We ha-ve been led almost unavoidably into
this train of reflections, by opening the volume before us [" Sermons
on Practical Subjects, by the late Lant Carpenter, LL.D."], and under


the influence of high personal regard to its author. In that feehng
we only participate with many both of orthodox Dissenters and the
evangelical members of the Establishment. It was scarcely possible
for an upright person to know Dr. Carpenter, and not to love and
venerate him. — Eclectic Review for June, 1841 ; new series, vol. ix.
pp. 669-70.

In the same Review for February, 1843 (vol. xiii. pp. 205-19), may be
seen an article occasioned by the pubhcation of the " Memoirs of the Life
of Dr. Carpenter." It is written in a liberal and Christian spirit; and,
though widely diflfering from Carpenter in the religious opinions which he
held, the author expresses the warmest reverence for the character of that
excellent man.

When the day comes when honor wiU be done to whom honor is

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 11 of 55)