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ON CANDOUR AND BENEVOLENCE TO MEN.
You recollect, that the Calvinistic system stands charged by Dr. Priestley, not only with being inconsistent with a perfect veneration of the divine character, but with "perfect candour and benevolence to man."
This, it must be owned, has often been objected to the Calvinists. Their views of things have been supposed to render them sour and ill natured towards those who differ from them. Charity, candour, benevolence, liberality, and the like, are virtues to which Socinians on the other hand, lay almost an exclusive claim. And such a weight do they give these virtues in the scale of morality, that they conceive themselves, "upon the whole, even allowing that they have more of an apparent conformity to the world than the Trinitarians, to approach nearer to the proper temper of Christianity than they."*
I shall not go about to vindicate Calvinists, any farther than 1 conceive their spirit and conduct to admit of a fair vindication; but I am satisfied, that, if things be closely examined, it will be found, that a great deal of what our opponents attribute to themselves, is not benevolence, or candour; and that a great deal of what they attribute to us, is not owing to the want of either.
Respecting benevolence, or good will to men, in order to be genuine, they must consist with love to God. There is such a thing as partiality to men, with respect to the points in which they and their Maker are at variance but this is not benevolence. Partiality to a criminal at the bar might induce us to pity him, so far as to plead in extenuation of his guilt, and to endeavour to bring him off from the just punishment of the laws: but this would not be
* Dr. Priestley's diiscourses on Various Subjects, p. 100.
benevolence. There must be a rectitude in our actions and affections, to render them truly virtuous. Regard to the public good must keep pace with compassion to the miserable; else the latter will degenerate into vice, and lead us to be partakers of other men's sins. Whatever pretences be made to devotion, or love to God, we never admit them to be real, unless accompanied with love to men, neither ought any pretence of love to men to be admitted as genuine, unless it be accompanied with love to God. Each of these virtues is considered in the scriptures as an evidence of the other. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.—By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.*
There is such a thing as partiality to men, as observed before, with respect to the points in which they and their maker are at variance; leaning to those notions that represent their sin as comparatively little, and their repentance and obedience as a balance against it; speaking smooth things, and affording intimations, that, without an' atonement, nay, even without repentance in this life, all will be well at last. But, if it should prove that God is wholly in the right, and man wholly in the wrong; that sin is exceeding sinful; that we all deserve to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord; and that, if we be not interested in the atonement of Christ, this punishment must actually take place: if these things, I say, should, at last, prove true, then all such notions as have flattered the pride of men, and cherished their presumption, instead of being honored with the epithets of liberal and benevolent, will be called by very different names. The princes and people of Judah would, doubtless, be apt to think the sentiment taught by Hananiah, who prophesied smooth things concerning them, much more benevolent and liberal than those of Jeremiah, who generally came with heavy tidings; yet true benevolence existed only in the latter. Whether the complexion of the whole system of our opponents do not resemble that of the false prophets, who prophesied smooth things, and healed the hurt of the daughter of Israel slightly, crying Peace,
*John iv. 20. x. 2.
peace; when there was no peace; and whether their objections to our views of things be not the same, for substance, as might have been made to the true prophets; let all who wish to know the truth, however ungrateful it may be to flesh and blood, decide.
A great deal of what is called candour and benevolence among Socinians, is nothing else but indifference to all religious principle. "If we could be so happy," says Dr. Priestley, "as to believe, that there are no errors but what men may be so circumstanced as to be innocently betrayed into; that any mistake of the head is very consistent with rectitude of heart; and that all differences in modes of worship may be only the different methods by which different men, (who are equally the offspring of God,) are endeavouring to honour and obey their common parent; our differences of opinion would have no tendency to lessen our mutual love and esteem."* This is, manifestly, no other than indifference to all religious principle. Such an indifference, it is allowed, would produce a temper of mind which Dr. Priestley calls candour and benevolence; but which, in fact, is neither the one, nor the other. Benevolence is good will to men: but good will to men is very distinct from a good opinion of their principles or their practices; so distinct, that the former may exist, in all its force, without the least degree of the latter. Our Lord thought very ill of the principles and practices of the people of Jerusalem; yet he beheld the city, and wept over it. This was genuine benevolence.
Benevolence is a very distinct thing from complacency, or esteem. These are founded on an approbation of character; the other is not. I am bound by the law of love to bear good will to men, as creatures of God, and as fellow-creatures, so as, by every mean in my power, to promote their welfare, both as to this life, and that which is to come; and all this, let their character be what it may. I am also bound to esteem every person, for that in him which is truly amiable, be he a friend or an enemy, and to put the best construction upon his actions that truth will admit; but no law obliges me to esteem a person respecting those things which I have reason to consider as erroneous or vicious. I may pity him, and ought to do so; but to esteem him, in those respects, would be * Considerations on Difference of Opinion, II. VOL. II. 14
contrary to the love of both God and man. Indifference to religious principle, it is acknowledged, will promote such esteem. Under the influence of that indifference, we may form a good opinion of various characters, which, otherwise, we should not do ; but the question is, Would that esteem be right or amiable? On the contrary, if religious principle of any kind should be found necessary to salvation; and if benevolence consist in that good will to men which leads us to promote their real welfare, it must contradict it for the welfare of men is promoted by thinking and speaking the truth concerning them. I might say, If we could be so happy as to think virtue and vice indifferent things, we should then possess a far greater degree of esteem for some men than we now do; but would such a kind of esteem be right, or of any use either to ourselves or them?
Candour, as it relates to the treatment of an adversary, is that temper of mind which will induce us to treat him openly, fairly, and ingenuously; granting him every thing that can be granted consistently with truth, and entertaining the most favourable opinion of his character and conduct that justice will admit. But what has all this to do with indifference to religious principle, as to matters of salvation? Is there no such thing as treating a person with fairness, openness, and generosity, while we entertain a very ill opinion of his principles, and have the most painful apprehensions as to the danger of his state? Let our opponents name a more candid writer of controversy than President Edwards; yet he considered many of the sentiments against which he wrote, as destructive to the souls of men, and those who held them, as being in a dangerous situation.
As a great deal of what is called candour and benevolence among Socinians, is merely the effect of indifference to religious principle; so a great deal of that in Calvinists, for which they are accused of the want of these virtues, is no other than a serious attachment to what they account divine truth, and a serious disapprobation of sentiments which they deem subversive of it. Now, surely, neither of these things is inconsistent with either candour or benevolence: if they be, however, Jesus Christ and his apostles are involved in the guilt, equally with the Calvinists. They cultiva
ted such an attachment to religious principle, as to be in real earnest in the promotion of it; and constantly represented the knowledge and belief of it, as necessary to eternal life. Ye shall know the truth, said Christ, and the truth shall make you free.-This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.--He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. They also constantly discovered a marked disapprobation of those sentiments, which tended to introduce another gospel, so far as to declare that man accursed who should propagate them. They considered false principles as pernicious and destructive to the souls of men. If ye believe not that I am he, said Christ to the Jews, ye shall die in your sins—and whither I go ye cannot come. To the Galatians, who did not fully reject Christianity, but in the matter of justification were for uniting the works of the law with the grace of the gospel, Paul testified, saying, If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.↑
Had the apostle Paul considered "all the different modes of worship as what might be only the different methods of different men, endeavouring to honour and obey their common parent;" he would not have felt his spirits stirred in him, when he saw the city of Athens wholly given to idolatry at least he would not have addressed the idolaters in such strong language as he did, preaching to them that they should turn from these vanities unto the living God. Paul considered them as having been all their life employed, not in worshipping the living God, only in a mode different from others, but mere vanities. Nor did he consider it as a " mere mistake of the head, into which they might have been innocently betrayed;" but as a sin, for which they were without excuse; a sin for which he called upon them, in the name of the living God to repent.‡
Now, if candour and benevolence be Christian virtues, which they doubtless are, one should think they must consist with the practice of Christ and his apostles. But, if this be allowed, the
*John viii. 32. xvii. 3. iii. 36.
+ John vii. 21-24.
Acts xvii. 16. xiv. 15.
Gal. i. 8.