CHAPTER 9 – Literary Labours
FEW men have written so much or so earnestly as Mr. Fuller. It is almost incredible, that amidst all his varied labours he should have found time to compose not only fugitive pieces for magazines, but treatises of sterling worth. He wrote against the prevailing errors of the day, – the Deism of Tom Paine, and the Socinianism of Dr. Priestley, with signal success. He published also a Memoir of his beloved friend Samuel Pearce, and an Exposition of Genesis and the Revelation, with Dialogues on doctrine, sermons, and tractates.
The first two contain the results of hard thinking, comprehensively arranged, and exhibit, as well as any of his writings, the character of the author’s mind. They are for the most part a posteriori arguments, and bring the spirit of Bacon into the region of theology with a rigour and power that has hardly been excelled. Although Andrew Fuller’s works were, most of them, calculated, and, indeed, in a manner designed, to provoke controversy, it is rarely he gives occasion for a charge of want of fairness. He never indulged in the common trick of writing indefinitely when he did not feel his ground. Even in such cases as we may feel that he is not over strong in his reasoning, the conditions of the argument are boldly and fairly stated, and no shirking of the point at issue is ever attempted. His prefaces and introductions fulfil their purpose with ease and directness, and are models well worthy of imitation. If any personal considerations are alluded to, they are just enough to clear the way for what is before him, while he gives you a notion of the drift and compass of his discourse, without at all anticipating the particulars of his argument. He writes like one thoroughly master of his work, with all his materials at easy command. His old sense of power, when wrestling in the village ring, constantly occurs to the mind as he fights with another weapon more solemn battles. He never contends as one afraid of his life, but with leisure for home-thrusts and side-blows; deliberately scanning the weak points of his opponent, and, like the heroes in the Trojan war, making short speeches to them at leisure before he deals the fatal blow. He has a quaint and effective way of asking a question or pointing an exclamation, conveying a sarcasm with a quiet keenness all his own. "Mr. Paine," he says, in his Introduction to The Gospel its own Witness, "holds up the advantages of the book of Nature in order to disparage the Scriptures; and says, ‘No Deist can doubt whether the works of nature be God’s works.’ An admirable proof, this," exclaims Mr. Fuller, "that we have arrived at the age of reason! Can no Atheists doubt it? I might as well say, No Christian doubts the truth of the Scriptures: the one proves just as much as the other. Mr. Paine refers to the idolators of what he calls Christianity, as a worthy succession of the Pagan Deities. ‘The statue of Mary,’ he says, ‘succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints. The mythologists had gods for everything. The Christian mythologists had saints for everything. The church became as crowded with the one as the Pantheon had been with the other; and Rome was the place of both." "Very true, Mr. Paine," says Mr. Fuller, in his own manner; "but you are not so ignorant as to mistake this for Christianity! Had you been born or educated in Italy, or Spain, you might have been excused in calling this ‘the Christian theory;’ but to write in this manner with your advantages, is disingenuous. Such conduct would have disgraced any cause but yours. It is capable, however, of some improvement. It teaches us to defend nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus. It also affords presumptive evidence in its favour; for if Christianity itself were false, there is little doubt but that you, or some of your fellow-labourers, would be able to prove it so; and this would turn greatly to your account. Your neglecting this, and directing your artillery chiefly against its corruptions and abuses, betray a consciousness that the thing itself, if not invulnerable, is yet not so easy of attack. If Christianity had really been a relic of heathenism, as you suggest, there is little reason to think that you would have so strenuously opposed it."
His doctrinal and practical treatises are of another character. They abound in grave, tender, and earnest exhortation, and possess a maturity of wisdom only to be gained by deep and bitter experience. He writes as one to whom the conflict of the flesh and the spirit had all the terrible uniformity of law; and while he is warning others, lays bare the workings of his own mind. Some parts of his Exposition of Genesis, to be referred to hereafter, are full of the most pathetic and tender writing. The author’s soul flows into his words with a power and fulness rarely to be met with.
Mr. Fuller’s style of writing was admirably fitted to convey his thoughts to the public. Direct and vigorous, his meanings come right home with a keen, clear edge. Pointed as Paley, he is stronger and more massive. He marshals his words with the pausing ease of a master, regardless of aught else but the enforcement of his meanings. One of his biographers has said that there was a "negligence and coarseness" in his style far from being inviting, even to readers of "moderate taste." That he did not possess the rotund phraseology of his biographer, with sentences moulded after the familiar models of the eighteenth century, is perfectly true. But it is impossible to account for the notion of there being any coarseness in his manner of writing, except from the pedantry of the critics who fashion their sentences after the style of the "Spectator." So far from any approach to coarseness, there is a singular dignity of manner which communicates itself even when he is writing on commonplace topics. There is ease without negligence, and great "plainness of speech" without familiarity.
The material of Andrew Fuller’s writings was furnished from the resources of a mind of comprehensive grasp, trained and ripened by some reading, but chiefly by observation, experience, and work. With general literature he had but a very partial acquaintance; but he had an inkling for meta¬physical inquiries, as far as they affected Divine problems. He read eagerly the works of Jonathan Edwards, and some others of an inferior quality. His indifference to general literature is to be accounted for by his absorbed attention to spiritual and eternal things. His religion did not, as in the case of his great contemporary, touch and kindle every faculty of his nature, but it was perhaps more intense in its character from being confined in a narrower channel. A friend passing through Oxford with Mr. Fuller, directed his attention to the University buildings. "Brother," replied he, "I think there is one question which, after all that has been written on it, has not yet been answered. What is justification?" His friend proposed to return home and discuss it; to which Mr. F. readily agreed, adding, "That inquiry is far more to me than all these fine buildings." In the same way, the burden of the "unanswered question" made him regard with indifference all literature which had not some distinct relation to eternal things. He possessed, however, as good a knowledge of the Greek Testament as one self-taught could be expected to acquire. Amongst the relics of his labour is a well-thumbed Greek Testament, with the Vulgate translation.
"The Gospel its own Witness," was published soon after the commencement of the mission, and amidst all the heavy labours already familiar to the reader. It was written in reply to the writings of Tom Paine, Shaftesbury, and Bolingbroke, – not because he had fears that the church was in danger, or, as he says, that the "vessel which contained his Lord and Master would perish in the storm," but he had some feeling for the "rising generation," and declared also that the "Lord confers an honour upon His servants in condescending to make use of their humble efforts in preserving and promoting His interest in the world."
The title exactly conveys the drift and design of the book. He endeavours to show the truth of revealed religion from its effect upon the lives of men; while, at the same time, he so far builds on a metaphysical foundation as to reason that such fruit may be lawfully expected from the character of its doctrines and the motives it supplies. As usual, he sets his purpose clearly forth in the Introduction, by a simple and effective illustration.
"Historians inform us of a certain valuable medicine called Mithridate, an antidote to poison. It is said that this medicine was invented by Mithridates, King of Pontus; that the recipe of it was found in a cabinet, written with his own hand, and was carried to Rome by Pompey; that it was translated into verse by Damocrates, a famous physician; and that it was afterwards translated by Galen, from whom we have it. Now, supposing this medicine to be efficacious for its professed purpose, of what account would it be to object to the authenticity of its history? If a modern caviller should take it into his head to allege that the preparation has passed through so many hands, and that there is so much hearsay and uncertainty attending it, that no dependence can be placed upon it, and that it had better be rejected from our Materia Medica, – he would be asked, Has it not been tried, and found to be effectual; and that in a great variety of instances? Such are Mr. Paine’s objections to the Bible, and such is the answer that may be given him.
"This language is not confined to infidel writers. Mr. Locke speaks of what he calls ‘traditional revelation,’ or revelation as we have it, in such a manner as to convey the idea that we have no evidence of the Scriptures being the word of God, but from a succession of witnesses having told us so. But I conceive these sacred writings may contain such internal evidence of their being what they profess to be, as that it might, with equal reason, be doubted whether the world was created by the power of God, as whether they were written by the inspiration of His Spirit; and if so, our dependence is not upon mere tradition."
Mr. Fuller carried his position so far as to declare that, though the Scriptures admitted of "historical defence," they did not require it.
"Their contents, come through whose hands they may, prove them to be of God. It was on this principle that the Gospel was proclaimed in the form of a testimony. The primitive preachers were not required by Him who sent them to prove their doctrine in the manner in which philosophers were wont to establish a proposition; but to ‘declare the counsel of God,’ and leave it. In delivering their message, they ‘commended themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.’"
While reading "The Gospel its own Witness," it is most needful to bear in mind that the Deism of half-a-century ago was a very different thing from the "spiritualism" of our day. Though they both agree in denying to Christianity anything outwardly supernatural, they treat it very differently. The Deism of Tom Paine was a scoffing, materializing system; but the Theism now prevailing has its altars, priests, and litanies. Teaching much it never could have taught but for the life and passion of our Lord and Master, it casts aside His Divine authority, and, robing itself in the vestment of the old priesthood, comes forth to lead us to a truer worship and a purer faith. The infidelity of that day, however, had no such ambition: it was content to enter the sanctuary, to rob us of our faith, and laugh at our prayers; the "age of reason" was to supersede the long night of superstition. Mr. Fuller has a quiet fling at this pretentious title. "Flattery," he says, "is one of the most powerful means of gaining admission to the human mind; such a compliment, therefore, was no doubt considered as a master¬stroke of policy. The considerate reader, however, may remark, that those writers who are not ashamed to beg the question in the title-page, are seldom the most liberal or impartial in the execution of the work."
Part I. of The Gospel its own Witness, contrasts the holy nature of the Christian religion with the immorality of Deism. . . . As usual, Andrew Fuller builds his argument on an admission of his adversary, viz., that all mankind plead for morality as essential to their well-being.
"However immoral men may be in their practice, and to whatever lengths they may proceed in extenuating particular vices, yet they cannot plead for immorality in the gross. A sober, upright, humble, chaste, and generous character, is allowed, on all hands, to be preferable to one that is profligate, treacherous, proud, unchaste, or cruel. Such, indeed, is the sense which men possess of right and wrong, that, whenever they attempt to disparage the former, or vindicate the latter, they are reduced to the necessity of covering each with a false guise. They cannot traduce good as good, or justify evil as evil. The love of God must be called fanaticism, and benevolence to men. Methodism, or some such opprobrious name, before they can depreciate them. Theft, cruelty, and murder, on the other hand, must assume the names of wisdom and good policy, ere a plea can be set up in their defence. Thus were the arguments for the abolition of the slave trade answered, and in this manner was that iniquitous traffic defended in the British Parliament. Doubtless there is a woe hanging over the heads of those men who thus called evil good, and good evil; nevertheless we see, even in their conduct, the amiableness of righteousness, and the impossibility of fairly opposing it."
He joins issue with Paine, Bolingbroke, and Shaftesbury, on the question as to which system is likely to produce such commonly-desired results. Chapter I. sets forth the God of the Bible as one "glorious in holiness;" while the god of the Deist is declared to be almost destitute of moral qualities. "Lord Shaftesbury," he says, "wishes to compliment his Maker out of all His moral excellences. He has no objection to a god, provided he be one after his own heart, – one who shall pay no such regard to human affairs as to call men to account for their ungodly deeds. If he thought the Creator of the world to bear such a character, it is no wonder that he should speak of Him with what he calls ‘good humour, or pleasantry.’ In speaking of such a Being, he can, as Mr. Hume expresses it, ‘feel more at ease’ than if he conceived of God as He is characterised in the Holy Scriptures. But let men beware how they play with such subjects. Their conceptions do not alter the nature of God; and however they suffer themselves to trifle now, they may find in the end that there is not only a God, but a God that judgeth in the earth."
Chapter II. is perhaps as powerfully written as any part of the treatise. The author commends Christianity as teaching us to acknowledge a God, and to devote ourselves to His service; while Deism, though it confesses one Supreme Being, yet refuses to worship Him. Mr. Paine not only avoids the mention of walking humbly with God, but attempts to load the practice with the foulest abuse. "What," exclaims Mr. Fuller, in his own inimitable vein, "is it that has transported this child of reason into a paroxysm of fury against devout people? By what spirit is he inspired in pouring forth such a torrent of slander? Why is it that he must accuse their humility of ‘ingratitude,’ their grief of ‘affectation,’ and their prayers of being ‘dictatorial’ to the Almighty? Cain hated his brother; and wherefore hated he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous." Prayer and devotion are things that Mr. Paine should have let alone, as being out of his province. The concluding paragraph of the chapter is most impressive. "If Deists loved the one only living and true God, they would delight in worshipping Him: for love cannot be inoperative; and the only possible way for it to operate towards an infinitely glorious and all-perfected Being is by worshipping His name and obeying His will. If Mr. Paine really felt for the ‘honour of his Creator’ as he affects to do, he would mourn in secret for all the great wickedness which he has committed against Him; he would lie in the dust before Him, not merely as an ‘outcast, a beggar, and a worm,’ but as a sinner deserving His eternal displeasure. He would be glad of a Mediator, through whom he might appease an offended Creator; and would consider redemption by His blood not as ‘a fable,’ but a Divine reality, including all his salvation and all his desire. Yea, he himself would ‘turn devout,’ and it would be said of him, as of Saul of Tarsus, ‘Behold he prayeth!’ Nor would his prayers, though importunate, be ‘dictatorial,’ or his grief ‘affected.’ On the contrary, he would look on Him whom he had pierced, and mourn as one mourneth for an only son, and be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his first-born. But these are things pertaining to godliness; – things, alas for him! the mention of which is sufficient to inflame his mind with malignity, and provoke him to the most outrageous and abusive language."
In succeeding chapters he describes the breadth of Christian morality, the superior motives it offers to prompt to a holy life, and then, boldly appealing to facts, declares that the lives of those who reject the Gospel will not bear comparison with the lives of those who embrace it – extending the challenge to the whole tone of society when penetrated with Christian influence. It is manifest that the handling of such themes as these, in the presence of a watchful and skilful enemy, required no common power and prudence. Yet the author is fully equal to the demand: neither friend nor foe can say he failed. Nothing can exceed the withering scorn with which he turns upon the lines of his adversaries, going through the long catalogue, from Hebert to Jean Jacques Rousseau, with a running and raking fire.
In the second part of the treatise the author argues on the Harmony of the Christian religion, considered as an evidence of its divinity. "If Christianity be an imposture," he says, "it may, like all other impostures, be detected. Falsehood may always be proved to clash with fact, with reason, or with itself; and often with them all. If, on the contrary, its origin be Divine, it may be expected to bear the character of consistency, which distinguishes every other Divine production. If the Scriptures can be proved to harmonize with historic fact, with truth, with themselves, and with sober reason, they must, considering what they profess, be Divinely inspired, and Christianity must be of God."
Following this sketch, he proceeds to show that the Scriptures themselves, in the manner of their writing and in their foreshadowing of events, assert their own Divinity; while their life-giving truths claim and secure the verdict of conscience on their side, and challenge the scrutiny of a "sober reason."
In commending to the intelligence of his hearers the atonement of the Saviour, he employs a "similitude" which, while it is drawn with singular skill and completeness, sets forth, perhaps better than any extract that could be given, his own view of that momentous doctrine, and well answers the objections common to that day.
"Let us suppose a division of the army of one of the wisest and best of kings, through the evil counsel of a foreign enemy, to have been disaffected to his government; and that, without any provocation on his part, they traitorously conspired against his crown and life. The attempt failed; and the offenders were seized, disarmed, tried by the laws of their country, and condemned to die. A respite, however, was granted them during his Majesty’s pleasure. At this solemn period, while every part of the army and of the empire was expecting the fatal order for execution, the king was employed in meditating mercy. But how could mercy be shown? ‘To make light of a conspiracy,’ said he to his friends, ‘would loosen the bands of good government: other divisions of the army might be tempted to follow their example; and the nation at large be in danger of imputing it to tameness, fear, or some unworthy motive.’
"Everyone felt, in this case, the necessity of a mediator, and agreed as to the general line of conduct proper for him to pursue. ‘He must not attempt,’ say they, ‘to compromise the difference by dividing the blame; that would make things worse. He must justify the king, and condemn the outrage committed against him; he must offer, if possible, Some honourable expedient, by means of which the bestowment of pardon shall not relax, but strengthen just authority; he must convince the conspirators of their crime, and introduce them in the character of supplicants; and mercy must be shown them out of respect to him, or for his sake.’
"But who could be found to mediate in such a cause? This was an important question. A work of this kind, it was allowed on all hands, required singular qualifications. ‘He must be perfectly clear of any participation in the offence,’ said one, ‘or inclination to favour it; for to pardon conspirators at the intercession of one who is friendly to their cause would be not only making light of the crime, but giving a sanction to it.’
" ‘He must,’ said another, ‘be one who on account of his character and services stands high in the esteem if the king and of the public,’ for to mediate in such a cause is to become, in a sort, responsible for the issue. A mediator, in effect, pledges his honour that no evil will result to the state from the granting his request. But if a mean opinion be entertained of him, no trust can be placed in him, and, consequently, no good impression would be made by his mediation on the public mind.’
" ‘I conceive it is necessary,’ said a third, ‘that the weight of the mediation should bear a proportion to the magnitude of the crime, and to the value of the favour requested; and that for this end it is proper he should be a person of great dignity. For his Majesty to pardon a company of conspirators at the intercession of one of their former comrades, or of any other obscure character, even though he might be a worthy man, would convey a very diminutive idea of the evil of the offence.’
"A fourth remarked, that ‘he must possess a tender compassion towards the unhappy offenders, or he would not cordially interest himself on their behalf’
"Finally. It was suggested by a fifth, ‘that, for the greater fitness of the proceeding, it would be proper that some relation or connexion should subsist between the parties. We feel the propriety,’ said he, ‘of forgiving an offence at the intercession of a father, or a brother; or if it be committed by a soldier, of his commanding officer. Without some kind of previous relation or connexion, a mediation would have the appearance of an arbitrary and formal process, and prove but little interesting to the hearts of the community.’
"Such were the reasonings of the king’s friends; but where to find the character in whom these qualifications were united, and what particular expedient could be devised by means of which, instead of relaxing, pardon should strengthen just authority, were subjects too difficult for them to resolve.
"Meanwhile, the king and his son, whom he greatly loved, and whom he had appointed generalissimo of all his forces, had retired from the company, and were conversing about the matter which attracted the general attention.
‘"My son!’ said the benevolent sovereign, ‘what can be done in behalf of these unhappy men? To order them for execution violates every feeling of my heart; yet to pardon them is dangerous. The army, and even the empire, would be under a strong temptation to think lightly of rebellion. If mercy be exercised, it must be through a mediator; and who is qualified to mediate in such a cause? And what expedient can be devised by means of which pardon shall not relax, but strengthen just authority? Speak, my son, and say what measures can be pursued.’
" ‘My father!’ said the prince, ‘I feel the insult offered to your person and government, and the injury thereby aimed at the empire at large. They have transgressed without cause, and deserve to die without mercy. Yet I also feel for them. I have the heart of a soldier. I cannot endure to witness their execution. What shall I say? On me be this wrong! Let me suffer in their stead. Inflict on me as much as is necessary to impress the army and the nation with a just sense of the evil, and of the importance of good order and faithful allegiance. Let it be in their presence, and in the presence of all assembled. When this is done, let them be permitted to implore and receive your Majesty’s pardon in my name. If any man refuse so to implore, and so to receive it, let him die the death!’
" ‘My son!’ replied the king,’ you have expressed my heart! The same things have occupied my mind; but it was my desire that you should be voluntary in the undertaking. It shall be as you have said. I shall be satisfied; justice itself will be satisfied; and I pledge my honour that you also shall be satisfied, in seeing the happy effects of your disinterested conduct. Propriety requires that I stand aloof in the day of your affliction; but I will not leave you utterly, nor suffer the beloved of my soul to remain in that condition. A temporary affliction on your part will be more than equivalent to death on theirs. The dignity of your person and character will render the sufferings of an hour of greater account, as to the impression on the public mind, than if all the rebellious had been executed; and by how much I am known to have loved you, by so much will my compassion to them, and my displeasure against their wicked conduct, be made manifest. Go, my son, assume the likeness of a criminal, and suffer in their place!’
"The gracious design being communicated at court, all were struck with it. Those who had reasoned on the qualifications of a mediator saw that in the prince all were united, and were filled with admiration; but that he should be willing to suffer in the place of rebels was beyond all that could have been asked or thought. Yet, seeing he himself had generously proposed it, would survive his sufferings, and reap the reward of them, they cordially acquiesced. The only difficulty that was started was among the judges of the realm. They, at first, questioned whether the proceeding was admissible. ‘The law,’ said they, ‘makes provision for the transfer of debts, but not of crimes. Its language is, "The soul that sinneth shall die.’" But when they came to view things on a more enlarged scale, considering it as an expedient on an extraordinary occasion, and perceived that the spirit of the law would be preserved, and all the ends of good government answered, they were satisfied. ‘It is not a measure,’ said they, ‘for which the law provides; yet it is not contrary to the law, but above it.’
"The day appointed arrived. The prince appeared, and suffered as a criminal. The hearts of the king’s friends bled at every stroke, and burned with indignation against the conduct which rendered it necessary. His enemies, however, even some of those for whom he suffered, continuing to be disaffected, added to the affliction by deriding and insulting him all the time. At a proper period he was rescued from their outrage. Returning to the palace, amidst the tears and shouts of the loyal spectators, the suffering hero was embraced by his royal father; who, in addition to the natural affection which he bore to him as a son, loved him for his singular interposition at such a crisis: ‘Sit thou,’ said he, ‘at my right hand! Though the threatenings of the law be not literally accomplished, yet the spirit of them is preserved. The honour of good government is secured, and the end of punishment more effectually answered than if all the rebels had been sacrificed. Ask of me what I shall give thee! No favour can be too great to be bestowed, even upon the un-worthiest, nor any crime too aggravated to be forgiven in thy name. I will grant thee according to thine own heart. Ask of me, my son, what shall I give thee?’
"He asked for the offenders to be introduced as supplicants at the feet of his father for the forgiveness of their crimes, and for the direction of affairs till order and happiness should be perfectly restored.
"A proclamation addressed to the conspirators was now issued, stating what had been their conduct, what the conduct of the king, and what of the prince. Messengers also were appointed to carry it, with orders to read it publicly, and to expostulate with them individually, beseeching them to be reconciled to their offended sovereign, and to assure them that, if they rejected this, there remained no more hope of mercy.
"A spectator would suppose that in mercy so freely offered, and so honourably communicated, everyone would have acquiesced; and if reason had governed the offenders, it had been so: but many among them continued under the influence of disaffection, and disaffection gives a false colouring to everything.
"The time of the respite having proved longer than was at first expected, some had begun to amuse themselves with idle speculations, flattering themselves that their fault was a mere trifle, and that it certainly would be passed over. Indeed the greater part of them had turned their attention to other things, concluding that the king was not in good earnest.
"When the proclamation was read, many paid no manner of attention to it; some insinuated that the messengers were interested men, and that there might be no truth in what they said; and some even abused them as impostors. So, having delivered their message, they withdrew; and the rebels, finding themselves alone, such of them as paid any attention to the subject expressed their mind as follows :-
‘" My heart,’ says one, ‘rises against every part of this proceeding. Why all this ado about a few words spoken one to another? Can such a message as this have proceeded from the king? What have we done so much against him, that so much should be made of it? No petition of ours, it seems, would avail anything; and nothing that we could say or do could be regarded, unless presented in the name of a third person. Surely if we present a petition in our names, in which we beg pardon, and promise not to repeat the offence, this might suffice. Even this is more than I can find in my heart to comply with; but everything beyond it is unreasonable; and who can believe that the king can desire it?’
" ‘If a third person,’ says another, ‘must be concerned in the affair, what occasion is there for one so high in rank and dignity? To stand in need of such a mediator must stamp our characters with everlasting infamy. It is very unreasonable: who can believe it? If the king be just and good, as they say he is, how can he wish thus publicly to expose us?’
" ‘I observe,’ says a third, ‘that the mediator is wholly on the king’s side,’ and one whom, though he affects to pity us, we have, from the outset, considered as no less our enemy than the king himself. If, indeed, he could compromise matters, and would allow that we had our provocations, and would promise us redress and an easier yoke in future, I should feel inclined to hearken; but if we have no concessions to offer, I can never be reconciled.’
" ‘I believe,’ says a fourth, ‘that the king knows very well that we have not had justice done us, and, therefore, this mediation business is introduced to make us amends for the injury. It is an affair settled somehow betwixt him and his son. They call it grace, and I am not much concerned what they call it, so that my life is spared; but this I say, if he had not made this or some kind of provision, I should have thought him a tyrant.’
" ‘You are all wrong,’ says a fifth: ‘I comprehend the design, and am well pleased with it. I hate the government as much as any of you: but I love the mediator; for I understand it is his intention to deliver me from its tyranny. He has paid the debt, the king is satisfied, and I am free. I will sue out for my right, and demand my liberty!’
"In addition to this, one of the company observed he did not see what the greater part of them had to do with the proclamation, unless it were to give it a hearing, which they had done already. ‘For,’ said he, ‘pardon is promised only to them who are willing to submit, and it is well known that many of us are unwilling; nor can we alter our minds on this subject.’
" After a while, however, some of them were brought to relent. They thought upon the subject matter of the proclamation, were convinced of the justness of its statements, reflected upon their evil conduct, and were sincerely sorry on account of it. And now the mediation of the prince appeared in a very different light. They cordially said Amen to every part of the proceeding. The very things which gave such offence, while their hearts were disaffected, now appeared to them fit, and right, and glorious. ‘It is fit,’ say they, ‘that the king should be honoured, and that we should be humbled; for we have transgressed without cause. It is right that no regard should be paid to any petition of ours, for its own sake; for we have done deeds worthy of death. It is glorious that we should be saved at the intercession of so honourable a personage. The dignity of his character, together with his surprising condescension and goodness, impresses us more than anything else, and fills our hearts with penitence, confidence, and love. That which in the proclamation is called grace is grace; for we are utterly unworthy of it; and if we had all suffered according to our sentence, the king and his throne had been guiltless. We embrace the mediation of the prince, not as a reparation for an injury, but as a singular instance of mercy. And far be it from us that we should consider it as designed to deliver us from our original and just allegiance to his Majesty’s government! No, rather it is intended to restore us to it. We love our intercessor, and will implore forgiveness in his name; but we also love our sovereign, and long to prostrate ourselves at his feet. We rejoice in the satisfaction which the prince has made, and all our hopes of mercy are founded upon it; but we have no notion of being freed by it previously to our acquiescence in it. Nor do we desire any other kind of freedom than that which, while it remits the just sentence of the law, restores us to his Majesty’s government. Oh that we were once clear of this hateful and horrid conspiracy, and might be permitted to serve him with affection and fidelity all the days of our life! We cannot suspect the sincerity of the invitation, or acquit our companions on the score of unwillingness. Why should we? We do not on this account acquit ourselves. On the contrary, it is the remembrance of our unwillingness that now cuts us to the heart. We well remember to what it was owing that we could not be satisfied with the just government of the king, and afterwards could not comply with the invitations of mercy: it was because we were under the dominion of a disaffected spirit – a spirit which, wicked as it is in itself, it would be more wicked to justify. Our counsel is, therefore, the same as that of his Majesty’s messengers, with whom we now take our stand. Let us lay aside this cavilling humour, repent, and sue for mercy in the way prescribed, ere mercy be hid from our eyes!’"
The last chapter of the second part, and, indeed, the concluding chapter of the book, under the heading of the Scheme of Redemption not inconsistent with modern ideas of Creation, is a beautiful and worthy conclusion to the argument. The style of the writer insensibly rises with the grandeur of the theme. He takes a calm glance at the most advanced scientific discoveries, and declares that they only magnify the greatness of the scheme of redemption. It is well known that this chapter formed the groundwork of "Chalmers’s Astronomical Discourses." He concludes with the memorable and oft-quoted words :-
"And now I appeal to the intelligent, the serious, and the candid reader, whether there be any truth in what Mr. Paine asserts, that to admit ‘that God created a plurality of worlds, at least as numerous as what we call stars, renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air.’ On the contrary, it might be proved that every system of philosophy is little in comparison of Christianity. Philosophy may expand our ideas of creation; but it neither inspires a love to the moral character of the Creator, nor a well-grounded hope of eternal life. Philosophy, at most, can only place us at the top of Pisgah: there, like Moses, we must die; it gives us no possession of the good land. It is the province of Christianity to add, ‘All is yours!’ When you have ascended to the height of human discovery, there are things, and things of infinite moment too, that are utterly beyond its reach. Revelation is the medium, and the only medium, by which, standing, as it were, ‘on nature’s Alps,’ we discover things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and of which it never hath entered into the heart of man to conceive."
"The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Compared as to their moral tendency." – It will be seen at once, by this title, that the line of argument pursued is the same as that in the treatise already reviewed; it is the application of the same test to a certain branch of the subject which there is treated as a whole. There one tree is tried as compared with another, by the examination of their different fruits; here the fruit is taken from the same tree, but from different branches, that the husbandmen may test whether they be true off springs of the parent stock or whether they have been surreptitiously engrafted.
In the preface Mr. Fuller assigns his reasons for the use of the term Socinian in preference to Unitarian. The term Unitarian he finds explained by that body to mean, "Those professors of Christianity who worship but one God." On this he remarks: "This is not wherein they can be allowed to be distinguished from others. For what professors of Christianity are there who profess to worship a plurality of Gods? Trinitarians profess also to be Unitarians. They, as well as their opponents, believe there is but one God. To give Socinians this name, therefore, exclusively, would be granting them the very point which they seem so desirous to take for granted; that is to say, the point in debate.
"Names, it may be said, signify little; and this signifies no more on one side than the term orthodox does on the other. The writer owns that, when he first conceived the idea of publishing these Letters, he thought so; and intended, all along, to use the term Unitarian. What made him alter his mind was, his observing that the principal writers in that scheme have frequently availed themselves of their self¬-chosen name, and appear to wish to have it thought by their readers that the point in dispute between them and the Trinitarians is, Whether there be three Gods, or only one."
If he had thought the use of the term Unitarian consistent with justice to his own argument, he would have preferred it to that of Socinian.
For the use of the term Calvinistic he also, in a measure, apologises; but says that on the whole he finds it the most convenient expression of the system he seeks to defend.
The work is in the form of a series of Letters "to the friends of vital and practical religion." He maintains that these are the best judges of truth, and objects in toto to Dr. Priestley’s statement that "an unbiassed temper of mind is attained in consequence of becoming more indifferent to religion in general, and to all the modes and doctrines of it." "God forbid!" exclaims the author," it is ‘he that doeth His will, shall know of His doctrine.’ "This notion of Dr. Priestley’s reminds one of Sidney Smith’s suggestion, that a reviewer should not read the book he had to review, in order that his judgment may be unprejudiced.
In the first letter the basis of the argument is stated. As before, he avoids the abstract question, and seizes a remark of Dr. Priestley’s, in "Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever," by which the question is allowed by that writer to depend upon the practical results of the two systems :-
"Admitting the truth," says Dr. Priestley, "of a trinity of persons in the Godhead, original sin, arbitrary predestination, atonement by the death of Christ, and the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures; their value, estimated by their influence on the morals of men, cannot be supposed, even by the admirers of them, to be of any moment, compared to the doctrine of the resurrection of the human race to a life of retribution: and, in the opinion of those who reject them, they have a very unfavourable tendency; giving wrong impressions concerning the character and moral government of God, and such as might tend, if they have any effect, to relax the obligations of virtue."
Mr. Fuller first takes exception to the term arbitrary, concluding his remarks as follows: "There is no decree in the Divine mind that we consider as void of reason. Predestination to death is on account of sin; and as to predestination to life, though it be not on account of any works of righteousness which we have done, yet it does not follow that God has no reason whatever for what He does. The sovereignty of God is a wise, and not a capricious sovereignty. If He hide the glory of the Gospel from the wise and prudent, and reveal it unto babes, it is because it seemeth good in His sight. But if it seem good in the sight of God, it must, all things considered, be good; for ‘the judgment of God is according to truth.’ "
But he speedily brings the argument to the real issue which he has in view, and proceeds: "There is one thing, however, in the above passage, wherein we all unite; and this is – that the VALUE or IMPORTANCE of religious principles is to be estimated by their influence on the morals of men. By this rule let the forementioned doctrines, with their opposites, be tried. If either those or these will not abide the trial, they ought to be rejected."
A few general observations, for the sake of clearing the ground, close Letter number one: First, the term morals is limited and defined; the author acquitting his antagonists of any intention to fasten on Calvinism the charge of producing any such want of morality in its followers, as to indicate that they were not good members of civil society, and worthy of the most perfect toleration in the state. He, on his part, also disclaims any such intention in reference to Socinians.
Secondly: It is premised that, not a few men picked out for their badness or goodness must be taken on either side, but the great bulk of each party. And that the presence of hypocrites in a denomination is no argument against the truth of their creeds, but may be taken rather the other way.
Thirdly: That in an argument of this character, care must be taken to distinguish between that which is mere opinion and that which is true principle, viz., that which lies at the foundation of a man’s spirit and conduct.
Lastly: That mere zeal is not morality, as men may be zealous in a very bad cause, – Acts the eighth and ninth chapters.
As in the discussion on Deism it was necessary to distinguish between the Deism of Paine and his times, and that of Parker and Newman and our times, so must we also notice here how different is the cold materialism of Dr. Priestley and his contemporaries from the teachings of Channing and some other representatives of modern Unitarianism. Both, it is true, agree in stripping our Lord of His proper deity, but the latter are so impressed with the depth of His spiritual perfection and the greatness of His sacrifice, that you feel, while reading their works, that you have laid before you the life of One whom their logic pronounces human, but whom their hearts would fain worship as Divine, so "express" is the image of the Father. Many of the points, therefore, of the comparison would hardly hold good with some of the Unitarians of the present day; but at the same time much of the reasoning is equally forcible in both cases.
The mode of reasoning adopted throughout is twofold. We have first the a priori argument, in which the author compares the nature of the systems themselves with the nature of true holiness, and the agreement or disagreement of the one with the other; and, second, the a posteriori, which consists in "an appeal to plain and acknowledged facts, and a judging of the nature of causes by their effects." In the first of these the argument is always clear and is often strong, but it is in the appeal to facts and to effects that Mr. Fuller is especially powerful, and in which he often rises to a truly triumphant eloquence.
The chapters in which his argument from the nature of the case is especially conclusive, are those on "the comparison of the systems as to their tendency to convert profligates to a life of holiness," – on "their influence in promoting love to Christ," and on "the resemblance between Socinianism and Infidelity, and the tendency of the one to the other." In reading these chapters, the remark as to the Unitarianism of that day must be specially borne in mind, as they would, in many ways, be wholly inapplicable to existing phases of belief. In the comparison of the two systems as to their tendency to convert profligates to a life of holiness, Mr. Fuller shows how essential is a true repentance toward God; involving a deep sense of a man’s own wrongness. This, he says, the Socinian teaching would never produce, as their tendency is to make little of sin as an offence against the Creator, but rather regard it merely in the light of an injury to the creature, and, according to Dr. Priestley, resulting from a distinct and absolute necessity. Mr. Fuller states his own case thus :-
"Those who embrace the Calvinistic system believe that man was originally created holy and happy; that of his own accord he departed from God, and became vile; that God, being in Himself infinitely amiable, deserves to be, and is, the moral centre of the intelligent system; that rebellion against Him is opposition to the general good; that, if suffered to operate according to its tendency, it would destroy the well-being of the universe, by excluding God, and righteousness, and peace, from the whole system; that seeing it aims destruction at universal good, and tends to universal anarchy and mischief, it is, in those respects, an infinite evil, and deserving of endless punishment; and that, in whatever instance God exercises forgiveness, it is not without respect to that public expression of His displeasure against it which was uttered in the death of His Son. These, brethren, are the sentiments which furnish us with motives for self-abhorrence; under their influence millions have repented in dust and ashes."
He then shews how essential a characteristic of salvation to a life of holiness is trust in the Lord Jesus Christ; he contrasts the way in which the Scriptures require the utter abandonment of ourselves to His keeping, with the cold way in which the Socinians merely regard Him as a great exemplar, and sums up thus :-
"That which I would here insist upon is, that, upon their principles, all trust or confidence in Christ for salvation is utterly excluded. Not only, are those principles unadapted to induce us to trust in Christ, but they directly tend to turn off our attention and affection from Him. Dr. Priestley does not appear to consider Him as ‘the way of a sinner’s salvation’ in any sense whatever, but goes about to explain the words of Peter, Acts i v. 12, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other,’ &c., not of salvation to eternal life, but’ of salvation, or deliverance, from bodily diseases.’ And another writer of the same cast (Dr. Harwood), in a volume of Sermons lately published, treats the sacred writers with still less ceremony. Paul had said, ‘Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ;’ but this writer, as if he designed to affront the apostle, makes use of his own words in order to contradict him. ‘Other foundation than this can no man lay,’ says he; ‘other expectations are visionary and groundless, and all hopes founded upon anything else than a good moral life are merely imaginary, and contrary to the whole tenor of the Gospel.’ "
His appeal is then made to facts. He asks Dr. Priestley, If it be true, as you maintain, that what you have to preach would have more effect in producing a holy life in men hitherto without it, why do not you, or some of your colleagues, go out into the highways and hedges? It is not enough, in this argument, to say that your own congregations are virtuous; the question now is as to the effect upon the ungodly. Hitherto you have no effect to show us. He exemplifies the results of the preaching of Calvinistic teachers by the labours of Whitfield and Edwards, and concludes the Letter by the following reference to the difficulties that Unitarians would meet with in any attempt to preach the Gospel:-
"Should they, in the course of their labours, behold a malefactor approaching the hour of his execution, what must they do? Alas! like the priest and the Levite, they must pass by on the other side. They could not so much as admonish him to repentance with any degree of hope, because they consider ‘all late repentance, and especially after long and confirmed habits of vice, as absolutely and necessarily ineffectual.’ Happy for many a poor wretch of that description, happy especially for the poor thief upon the cross, that Jesus Christ acted upon a different principle!
"These, brethren, are matters that come within the knowledge of every man of observation; and it behoves you, in such cases, to know, ‘not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.’ "
Various points are discussed in the subsequent Letters: as the first dealt with the tendency of the two systems to produce holiness of life in those hitherto without a true knowledge of God, so most of the others discuss under various forms the character of the morality which is likely to grow up under each. Dr. Priestley charges Calvinism with a tendency to produce immorality by its doctrine of election. It will be seen at a glance that the Doctor’s theory on the doctrine of necessity places him here quite at the mercy of Mr. Fuller, who on this subject thus writes :-
"As to election, Dr. Priestley cannot consistently maintain his scheme of necessity without admitting it. If, as he abundantly maintains, God is the author of every good disposition in the human heart; and if, as he also in the same section maintains, God, in all that He does, pursues one plan, or system, previously concerted, it must follow that where¬ever good dispositions are produced, and men are finally saved, it is altogether in consequence of the appointment of God; which, as to the present argument, is the same thing as the Calvinistic doctrine of election.
"If there be any difference between that election which is involved in Dr. Priestley’s own scheme, and that of the Calvinists, it must consist, not in the original appointment, or in the certainty of the event, but in the intermediate causes or reasons which induced the Deity to fix things in the manner that He has done; and it is doubtful whether even this can be admitted. It is true Dr. Priestley, by his exclamations against unconditional election, would seem to maintain that, where God hath appointed a sinner to obtain salvation, it is on account of his foreseen virtue; and he may plead that such an election is favourable to virtue, as making it the ground or procuring cause of eternal felicity, while an election that is altogether unconditional must be directly the reverse."
After referring to this idea of election as not Scriptural, he proceeds :-
"Secondly, let it be considered whether such an election will consist with Dr. Priestley’s own scheme of necessity. This scheme supposes that all virtue, as well as everything else, is necessary. Now whence arose the necessity of it? It was not self-originated, nor accidental; it must have been established by the Deity. And then it will follow that, if God elect any man on account of his foreseen virtue, He must have elected him on account of that which He had determined to give him; but this, as to the origin of things, amounts to the same thing as unconditional election."
The worship of Christ by Trinitarians has always been strongly condemned by Unitarians, and regarded by them as greatly dishonouring God. To this Mr. Fuller makes the following spirited and effective rejoinder :-
"Once more, it seems to be generally supposed by our opponents, that the worship we pay to Christ tends to divide our hearts; and that, in proportion as we adore Him, we detract from the essential glory of the Father. In this view, therefore, they reckon themselves to exercise a greater veneration for God than we. But it is worthy of notice, and particularly the serious notice of our opponents, that it is no new thing for an opposition to Christ to be carried on under the plea of love to God. This was the very plea of the Jews, when they took up stones to stone Him. ‘For a good work,’ said they, ‘we stone Thee not, but for that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.’ They very much prided themselves in their God,’ and, under the influence of that spirit, constantly rejected the Lord Jesus. ‘Thou art called a Jew, and makest thy boast of God.’ – ‘ We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.’ – ‘Give God the praise: we know that this Man is a sinner.’ It was under the pretext of zeal and friendship for God that they at last put Him to death as a blasphemer. But what kind of zeal was this, and in what manner did Jesus treat it? ‘If God were your Father,’ said He, ‘you would love me.’ – ‘He that is of God heareth God’s words.’ – ‘It is my Father that honoureth me, of whom ye say that He is your God; yet ye have not known Him.’ – ‘I know you, that you have not the love of God in you.’
"Again, the primitive Christians will be allowed to have loved God aright; yet they worshipped Jesus Christ. Not only did the martyr Stephen close his life by committing his departing spirit into the hands of Jesus, but it was the common practice, in primitive times, to invoke His name. ‘He hath authority,’ said Ananias concerning Saul, to bind ‘all that call on Thy name.’ One part of the Christian mission was to declare that ‘whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,’ even of that Lord of whom the Gentiles had not heard. Paul addressed himself ‘to all that in every place called upon the name of Jesus Christ.’ These modes of expression (which, if I be not greatly mistaken, always signify Divine worship) plainly inform us that it was not merely the practice of a few individuals, but of the great body of the primitive Christians, to invoke the name of Christ; nay, and that this was a mark by which they were distinguished as Christians.
"Further, it ought to be considered that, in worshipping the Son of God, we worship Him not on account of that wherein He differs from the Father, but on account of those perfections which we believe Him to possess in common with Him. This, with the consideration that we worship Him not to the exclusion of the Father, any more than the Father to "the exclusion of Him, but as one with Him, removes all apprehensions from our minds that, in ascribing glory to the one, we detract from that of the other. Nor can we think but that these ideas are confirmed, and the weight of the objection removed, by those declarations of Scripture where the Father and the Son are represented as being in such union that ‘he who hath seen the one hath seen the other:" and ‘he who honoureth the one honoureth the other;’ yea, that ‘he who honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father who sent Him.”’
We have often, in the course of this book, remarked upon Mr. Fuller’s plain way of speaking out what he considers to be the truth, and often thereby incurring the charge of harshness or bluntness. The following passage, which he uses in repelling the charge of bigotry from the Calvinists in particular, will set forth the ground he takes in this matter, and will enable his readers, at least, to feel that his plain speaking came from no harshness of disposition, but from the depth of his convictions; and shows that he courted from his opponents equal plainness of speech, eschewing therein all unkindness of feeling or bitterness of thought :-
"What is there of bigotry in our not reckoning the Socinians to be Christians, more than in their reckoning us idolators? Mr. Madan complained of the Socinians ‘insulting those of his principles with the charge of idolatry.’ Dr. Priestley justified them by observing, ‘All who believe Christ to be a man, and not God, must necessarily think it idolatrous to pay Him Divine honours; and to call it so is no other than the necessary consequence of avowing our belief.’ Nay, he represents it as ridiculous that they should ‘be allowed to think the Trinitarians idolators without being permitted to call them so.’ If Socinians have a right to think Trinitarians idolators, they have doubtless a right to call them so; and, if they be able, to make it appear so: nor ought we to consider ourselves as insulted by it. I have no idea of being offended with any man; in affairs of this kind, for speaking what he believes to be the truth. Instead of courting compliments from each other in matters of such moment, we ought to encourage an unreservedness of expression, provided it be accompanied with sobriety and benevolence. But neither ought Socinians to complain of our refusing to acknowledge them as Christians, or to impute it to a spirit of bigotry; for it amounts to nothing more than avowing a necessary consequence of our belief. If we believe the Deity and atonement of Christ to be essential to Christianity, we must necessarily think those who reject these doctrines to be no Christians; nor is it inconsistent with charity to speak accordingly.
"Again, What is there of bigotry in our not allowing the Socinians to be Christians, more than in their not allowing us to be Unitarians? We profess to believe in the Divine unity as much as they do in Christianity, But they consider a oneness of person, as well as of essence, to be essential to the unity of God, and therefore cannot acknowledge us as Unitarians; and we consider the Deity and atonement of Christ as essential to Christianity, and therefore cannot acknowledge them as Christians. We do not choose to call Socinians Unitarians, because that would be a virtual acknowledgment that we ourselves do not believe in the Divine unity; but we are not offended at what they think of us; nor do we impute it to bigotry, or to anything of the kind. We know that while they think as they do on the doctrine of the Trinity, our sentiments must appear to them as Tritheism. We comfort ourselves in these matters with this, that the thoughts of creatures uninspired of God are liable to mistake. Such are theirs concerning us, and such are ours concerning them; and if Socinians do indeed love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, it is happy for them. The judgment of their fellow-creatures cannot affect their state; and thousands who have scrupled to admit them among the true followers of Christ in this world, would rejoice to find themselves mistaken in that matter at the last day.
"But why need I say any more? Dr. Priestley himself allows all I plead for: ‘The man,’ says he, ‘whose sole spring of’ action is a concern for lost souls, and a care to preserve the purity of that Gospel which alone teaches the most effectual method of their recovery from the power of sin and Satan unto God, will feel an ardour of mind that will prompt him strenuously to oppose all those whom he considers as obstructing his benevolent designs.’ He adds: ‘I could overlook everything in a man who I thought meant nothing but my everlasting welfare.’ This, and nothing else, is the temper of mind which I have been endeavouring to defend."
It is very interesting to observe the way in which Mr. Fuller is imbued with the spirit of the subject in hand. All through the letter on the tendency of the two systems to produce love to Christ, we find a softened and subdued tone; there is no loss of power, as an extract which we shall give will shew. He seems rather to be thinking of Christ than of his opponents in argument. It is true they are occasionally referred to, but only as necessity requires it. In the midst of a discussion on some of its aspects but little inviting, he seems to glory in the life-giving theme. It must have been to him like Sabbath labour, after his week’s toilsome travelling.
"We find so much use for Christ, if I may so speak, that He appears as the soul which animates the whole body of our divinity; as the centre of the system, diffusing light and life to every part of it. Take away Christ; nay, take away the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the whole ceremonial of the Old Testament appears to us little more than a dead mass of uninteresting matter: prophecy loses all that is interesting and endearing; the Gospel is annihilated, or ceases to be that good news to lost sinners which it professes to be; practical religion is divested of its most powerful motives, the evangelical dispensation of its peculiar glory, and heaven itself of its most transporting joys.
"The sacred penmen appear to have written all along upon the same principles. They considered Christ as the All in all of their religion; and, as such, they loved Him with their whole hearts. Do they speak of the ‘first tabernacle?’ They call it a ‘figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience.’ – ‘But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having "obtained eternal redemption for us.’ Do they speak of prophecy? They call the testimony of Jesus the ‘spirit’ of it (Rev. xix. 10). Of the Gospel? It is the doctrine of ‘Christ crucified’ Of the medium by which the world was crucified to them, and they to the world? It is the same. The very ‘reproach of Christ’ had a value stamped upon it, so as, in their esteem, to surpass all the treasures of the present world. One of the most affecting ideas which they afford us of heaven consists in ascribing everlasting glory and dominion ‘to Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, were heard with a loud voice, saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.’ "
On veneration for the Scriptures he sums up as follows :¬
"I have heard of persons who, when engaged in a lawsuit, and fearing lest certain individuals should appear in evidence against them, have so contrived matters as to sue the witnesses; and so, by making them parties in the contest, have disqualified them for bearing testimony. And what else is the conduct of Dr. Priestley, with respect to those passages in the New Testament which speak of Christ as God? We read there that ‘the Word who was made flesh, and dwelt among us,’ was God. Thomas exclaimed: ‘My Lord and my God!’ – ‘Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.’ – ‘Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.’ – ‘ Feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood:’ – ‘ Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.’ But Dr. Priestley asserts that ‘in no sense whatever, not even in the lowest of all, is Christ so much as called God in all the New Testament.’ The method taken by this writer to enable him to hazard such an assertion, without being subject to the charge of downright falsehood, could be no other than that of laying a kind of arrest upon the foregoing passages, with others, as being either interpolations or mistranslations, or something that shall answer the same end, and by these means imposing silence upon them as to the subject in dispute. To be sure, we may go on, killing one Scripture testimony and stoning another, till, at length, it would become an easy thing to, assert that there is not an instance, in all the New Testament, in which our opinions are confronted. But to what does it all amount? When we are told that ‘Christ is never so much as called God in all the New Testament,’ the question is, whether we are to understand it of the New Testament as it was left by the sacred writers, or as corrected, amended, curtailed, and interpreted by a set of controvertists, with a view to make it accord with a favourite system."
The deeper happiness felt by those who receive the mystery of redemption is given in a noble passage, of rare insight and beauty:-
"The Socinian system proposes to exclude mystery from religion, or ‘things in their own nature incomprehensible.’ But such a scheme not only renders religion the only thing in nature void of mystery, but divests it of a property essential to the continued communication of happiness to an immortal creature. Our passions are more affected by objects which surpass our comprehension than by those which we fully know. It is thus with respect to unhappiness. An unknown misery is much more dreadful than one that is fully known. Suspense adds to distress. If, with regard to transient sufferings, we know the worst, the worst is commonly over; and hence our troubles are frequently greater when feared than when actually felt. It is the same with respect to happiness. That happiness which is felt in the pursuit of science abates in the full possession of the object. When once a matter is fully known, we cease to take that pleasure in it as at first, and long for something new. It is the same in all other kinds of happiness. The mind loves to swim in deep waters; if it touches the bottom it feels disgust. If the best were once fully known, the best would thence be over. Some of the noblest passions in Paul were excited by objects incomprehensible: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ – ‘Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, believed on in the world, received up into glory!’ Now, if things be so, it is easy to see that to divest religion of everything incomprehensible is to divest it of what is essential to human happiness. And no wonder; for it is nothing less than to divest it of God!"
In the next letter we have a reference to those things the thought of which must have often upborne him in the midst of oppressing sorrow and toil; and we read his own experience as he talks of men of old.
"You read in your Bibles that ‘the Lord will be our everlasting light, and our God our glory;’ that ‘our life is hid with Christ in God;’ that ‘when He shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory;’ and that we shall then ‘be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.’ Hence you conclude that a full enjoyment of God, and conformity to Him, are the sum of heaven.
"These are very important matters, and must have a great influence in attracting your hearts towards heaven. These were the things which caused the patriarchs to live like strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They looked for a habitation, a better country, even a heavenly one. These were the things that made the apostles and primitive Christians consider their afflictions as light and momentary. ‘For this cause,’ say they, ‘we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ "
In the concluding letter Mr. Fuller boldly assails Unitarianism as having a direct tendency to promote infidelity. His heart seems burdened with the solemnity of the issue raised between himself and his opponent, as he strikes right home in many a telling rebuke. He thus earnestly concludes his epistle:-
"Christian brethren, permit me to request that the subject may be seriously considered. Whether the foregoing positions be sufficiently proved, it becomes not me to decide. A reflection or two, however, may be offered, upon the supposition that they are so; and with these I shall conclude.
"First, If that system which embraces the Deity and atonement of Christ, with other correspondent doctrines, be friendly to a life of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, it must be of God; and it becomes us to abide by it, not because it is the doctrine of Calvin or of any other man that was uninspired, but as being ‘the Gospel which we have received’ from Christ and His apostles, ‘wherein we stand, and by which we are saved.’
"Secondly, If that system of religion which rejects the Deity and atonement of Christ, with other correspondent doctrines, be unfriendly to the conversion of sinners to a life of holiness, and of professed unbelievers to faith in Christ; if it be a system which irreligious men are the first and serious Christians the last to embrace; if it be found to relax the obligations to virtuous affection and behaviour, by relaxing the great standard of virtue itself; if it promote neither love to God under His true character, nor benevolence to men as it is exemplified in the spirit of Christ and His apostles; if it lead those who embrace it to be wise in their own eyes, and instead of humbly deprecating God’s righteous displeasure, even in their dying moments, arrogantly to challenge His justice; if the charity which it inculcates be founded in an indifference to Divine truth; if it be inconsistent with ardent love to Christ, and veneration for the Holy Scriptures; if the happiness which it promotes be at variance with the joys of the Gospel; and, finally, if it diminish the motives to gratitude, obedience, and heavenly-¬mindedness, and have a natural tendency to infidelity; it must be an immoral system, and, consequently, not of God. It is not the Gospel of Christ, but ‘another gospel.’ Those who preach it preach another Jesus, whom the apostles did not preach; and those who receive it receive another spirit, which they never imbibed. It is not the light which cometh from above, but a cloud of darkness that hath arisen from beneath, tending to eclipse it. It is not the highway of truth, which is a way of holiness; but a by-path of error, which misleads the unwary traveller, and of which, as we value our immortal interests, it becomes us to beware. We need not be afraid of evidence, or of free inquiry; for if irreligious men be the first, and serious Christians be the last, who embrace the Socinian system, it is easy to perceive that the avenues which lead to it are not, as its abettors would persuade you to think, an openness to conviction, or a free and impartial inquiry after truth, but a heart secretly disaffected to the true character and government of God, and dissatisfied with the Gospel way of salvation."
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