« PreviousContinue »
to add, that he was, not more through educa tion than principle, a dissenter from the ecclesiastical establishment of his native country, and of that description of dissenters who in point of doctrine have left it at the greatest distance. His ancestry, both paternal and maternal, comprised a long succession of Old Whigs and Puritans; terms, always characteristic of those to whom they are applied, as the determined assertors of liberty, civil and religious. An hereditary zeal for both, has led, perhaps for want of an adequate proportion of talent or prudence, to many costly sacrifices. Disappointed in reality, though in point of form successful, in an attempt to restore the ancient free constitution of the city of which he was an inhabitant, by an appeal to the highest court of judicature in the kingdom-harassed in his business by the vexatious and oppressive restrictions of excise laws-exposed, as a dissenter, to the odium which attached to almost every person of similar principles, about the period of the French revolution-and justly apprehensive of the consequences of that course which public affairs seemed to be taking-he found it impossible to resist the attraction which the constitution of the United States (then recently gone into operation) held out to the lovers and devoted adherents of liberty, for the sake of which
he broke off many endearing connexions, relinquished many temporal advantages, and encountered many serious difficulties. To him, however, America did not immediately afford the means of enjoying the religious liberty she offered. Strongly attached, both by habit and principle, to a regular attendance on public worship, after trying the experiment with a variety of religious persuasions, and more particularly with that which came the nearest to former usage, the Presbyterian, he found, among some things that occasionally gave satisfaction, so much that excited a contrary sensation, as to render a decided attachment to any of them impossible. Doctor Priestley, the author's early preceptor and tutor, had arrived in America a few months before him; but had fixed his abode at too great a distance from Philadelphia to admit of any hope of advantage from his ministry. His occasional presence, however, and the plan he had recommended in his writings, excited a desire in several who agreed with him upon the main points of Christian faith, to try what could be done towards forming a meeting for social worship, to be conducted by the members themselves. The rest is sufficiently known without entering into a particular detail. What was originally the assembling of perhaps about twenty persons in one of the rooms of the Old
College, and a service which did not afford a word of original composition, has become a Church, with a regular charter of incorporation, and a respectable congregation, meeting in a commodious building. But this increase has demanded proportionably increasing exertion, and a devotion of time and attention far beyond what those, to whose lot it has fallen to conduct the services, could have originally contemplated.
Having to the extent of his ability (and sometimes beyond it) discharged that part of the duty which thus devolved upon him, and, sensible that the increase of years and their attendant infirmities will not much longer admit of his continuing it, the author of the following discourses adventures their publication, not only as a record of past labours, but as a specimen of what may be effected by a willing mind and moderate abilities-by a plain understanding, open to the simplicity of gospel truth, when the assistance of a regularly-educated minister is not immediately attainable. Whatever may be thought of such a plan by those who are attached to an hierarchy and a privileged order, he cannot but believe that it is sanctioned by the genuine spirit of evangelical liberty, and ought to receive the prudent encouragement of all its real friends.
He could not persuade himself that it would be right to exclude from the volume all such discourses as contained any thing of a doctrinal nature. Judicious friends had suggested the probability that the prejudices existing against Unitarian sentiments would operate against the favourable reception of any other than moral and practical subjects. But he was convinced, upon reflection, that the most effectual way of obviating prejudices, is a candid and unreserved exposition of the principles which excite them, and, by thus subjecting them to the examination of deliberate judgment, to change prejudice into conviction, whether as to their real conformity with, or departure from truth. And with respect to practice, it has always appeared to him, that whatever in any religious opinions is correct as to faith, must have a connexion, not very remote, with purity and piety of heart, and rectitude of conduct; and he is firmly persuaded, that the faith which rests upon the foundation of that intelligible and unsophisticated form of sound words, "There is ONE GOD, and One Mediator between God and man, THE MAN CHRIST JESUS," will in this, as in every other respect, abide the strictest scrutiny. Would it not moreover have been to disappoint the public expectation, to send abroad a number of discourses, the production of a known Unitarian,
without a single feature which should have marked their correspondence with their origin? The author could not thus subject himself to the imputation of shrinking from the open avowal of what in his conscience he believes to be sacred truth. Nor do the motives for adopting so decisive a line of conduct stop at this point. It is almost incredible, what a mass of misinformation and what a want of information exists, as to the real nature of Unitarian principles. The causes are obvious. The popular clamour was at once raised against them as deistical-infidel-Christ-denying. The leaders of opinion among almost every sect have joined in reprobating them. Episcopalians have traced in them the high road to Atheism. By Presbyterians "this way" has been characterised as the "Unitarian heresy," and its mode of worship blasphemy; and in public prayer, after having been addressed for the most part to God the Father, Jehovah-Jesus has been invoked to confound all those who deny his deity. By Baptists, its professors have been denounced as confederates with Satan; and some, who have stretched their charity so far as to allow them the merit of sincerity, have yet declared, that they verily believed, if they were to enter the "anti-trinitarian synagogue," the walls would fall upon them! Scarcely any