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Eternity too short to speak thy praise !
Or fathom thy profound of love to man!
To man, to men the meanest, ev'n to me;
My sacrifice! my God! what things are these!"
"Pardon for infinite offence! and pardon,
My species up in arms! not one exempt!
Praise! flow for ever, (if astonishment
Will give thee leave,) my praise! for ever flow;
And all her spicy mountains in a flame!"
Night Thoughts, Night. IV.
There is a rich, great and ravishing quality in the foregoing sentiments, which no other theme can inspire. Had the writer been a Socinian and attempted to write upon the death of Christ, he might, by the strengh of his mind and the fire of his genius, have contributed a little to raise his subject; but here his subject raises him above himself.
The dignity of Christ, together with his glorious undertaking, was, as we have seen, in Letter XI. a source of joy and love to the primitive Christians, it was the ir darling theme, and that which raised them above themselves. Now, according to our system, Christians may still rejoice in the same manner, and give vent to their souls, and to all that is within them; and without fear of going beyond the words of truth and soberness, of bordering, or seeming to border, upon idolatry. But, upon the principles of our opponents, the sacred writers must have dealt largely
in hyperbole; and it must be our business, instead of entering into their spirit, to sit down with "cool sensations," criticise their words, and explain away their apparent meaning.
Brethren, I appeal to your own hearts, as men who have been brought to consider yourselves as the scriptures represent you; Is there any thing, in that preaching which leaves out the doctrine of salvation by an atoning sacrifice, that can afford you any relief? Is it not like the priest and Levite, who passed by on the other side? Is not the doctrine of atonement by the blood of Christ like the oil and wine of the good Samaritan? Under all the pressures of life, whether from inward conflicts or outward troubles, is not this your grand support? What but an advocate with the Father one who is the propitiation for our sins, could prevent you, when you have sinned against God, from sinking into despondency, and encourage you to sue afresh for mercy? What else could so divest affliction of its bitterness, death of its sting, or the grave of its gloomy aspect? In fine: what else could enable you to contemplate a future judgment with composure? What hope could you entertain of being justified, at that day, upon any other footing than this, It is Christ that died?
I am aware I shall be told that this is appealing to the passions, and to the passions of enthusiasts. To which it may be replied, In a question which relates to happiness, the heart is the best criterion and, if it be enthusiam to think and feel concerning ourselves as the scriptures represent us, and concerning Christ as he is there exhibited, let me live and die an enthusiast. So far from being ashamed to appeal to such characters, in my opinion they are the only competent judges. Men of mere speculation play with doctrines: It is the plain and serious Christian that knows most of their real tendency. In a question therefore, which concerns their happy or unhappy influence, his judgment is of the greatest importance.
Dr. Priestley allows, that "the doctrine of a general, and a most particular providence, is so leading a feature in every scheme of predestination, it brings God so much into every thing, that an habitual and animated devotion is the result."* This witness is
*Doctrine of Necessity, p. 162.
true nor is this all. The same principle, taken in its connexion with various others, equally provides for a serene and joyful satisfaction in all the events of time. All the vicissitudes of nations; all the furious oppositions to the church of Christ; all the efforts to overturn the doctrine of the cross, or blot out the spirit of Christianity from the earth, we consider as permitted for wise and holy ends. And, being satified that they make a part of God's eternal plan, we are not inordinately anxious about them. We can assure our opponents, that when we hear them boast of their increasing numbers, as, also, professed unbelievers, of theirs, it gives us no other pain than that which arises from good will to men. We have no doubt, that these things are wisely permitted; that they are a fan in the hand of Christ, by which he will thoroughly purge his floor; and that the true gospel of Christ like the sun in the heavens, will finally disperse all these interposing clouds. We are persuaded, as well as they, that hings, upon the whole, whether we, in our contracted spheres of observation, perceive it, or not, are tending to the general good: that the empire of truth and righteousness, notwithstanding all the infidelity and iniquity that are in the world, is upon the increase; that it must increase more and more; that glorious things are yet to be accomplished in the church of God; and that all which we have hitherto seen, or heard, of the gospel dispensation, is but as the first-fruits of an abundant harvest.
The tendency of a system to promote present happiness, may be estimated by a degree of security which accompanies it. The obedience and suffering of Christ, according to the Calvinistic system, constitute the ground of our acceptance with God. A good moral life, on the other hand, is the only foundation on which our opponents profess to build their hopes.* Now, supposing our principles should prove erroneous, while they do not lead us to neglect good works, but do abound in them, from love to God, and with a regard to his glory; it may be presumed, that the Divine Being will not cast us off to eternity, for having ascribed too much to him, and too little to ourselves. But, if the principles
*See the quotations from Dr. Priestley, Dr. Harwood, and Mrs. Barbauld, Letter IX.
and obedience."* As this is a matter of fact, then, allowed on both sides, it may be worth while to make some inquiry into the reason of it; or, why it is that so great a stress should be laid, in the scriptures, upon this motive. To say nothing of the strong presumption which this acknowledgment affords in favour of the doctrine of atonement, suffice it, at present, to observe, that in all other cases, an obligation to gratitude is supposed to bear some proportion to the magnitude, or value, of the gift. But if it be allowed in this instance, it will follow, that the system which gives us the most exalted views of the dignity of Christ, must include the strongest motives to obedience and gratitude.
If there be any meaning in the words, the phraseology of John iii. 16, God so loved the world, that he gave HIS ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON, conveys an idea of the highest worth in the object bestowed. So great was this gift, that the love of God in the bestowment of it, is considered as inexpressible and inestimable. We are not told how much he loved the world, but that he SO loved it that he gave ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON. If Jesus Christ be of more worth than the world for which he was given, then was the language of the sacred writer fit and proper; and then was the gift of him truly great, and worthy of being made "the consideration upon which the scriptures should lay the greatest stress, as a motive to gratitude and obedience." But, if he be merely a man like ourselves, and was given only to instruct us by his doctrine and example, there is nothing so great in the gift of him, nothing that will justify the language of the sacred writers from the apperance of bombast; nothing that should render it a motive to gratitude and obedience, upon which the greatest stress should be laid.
Dr. Priestley, in his Letters to Dr. Price, observes, that, " In passing from Trinitarianism to High Arianism,from this to your Low Arianism, and from this to Socinianism, even of the lowest kind, in which Christ is considered as a mere man, the son of Joseph and Mary, and naturally as fallible and peccable as Moses, or any other prophet, there are sufficient sources of gratitude and devotion. I myself,” continues Dr. Priestley, "have gone through all those changes ; and I think I may assure you, that you have nothing to apprehend *Defence of Unitarianism, for 1786, p. 102.
from any part of the progress. In every stage of it, you have that consideration on which the scriptures always lay the greatest stress, as a motive to gratitude and obedience; namely, the love of God, the Almighty Parent, in giving his Son to die for us. And whether this Son be man, angel, or of a super-angelic nature, every thing that he has done is to be referred to the love of God, the original Author of all, and to him all our gratitude and obedience is ultimately due."*
Dr. Priestley, it seems, wishes to have it thought, that, seeing Trinitarians, Arians, and Socinians agree, in considering the gift of Christ as an expression of the love of God; therefore their different systems are upon a level, as to the grand method of gratitude and obedience. As if it made no difference at all, whether that gift was small or great; whether it was a man or an angel, or one whom men and angels are bound to adore: whether it was to die, as other martyrs did, to set us an example of perseverance; or, by laying down his life as an atoning sacrifice, to deliver us from the wrath to come. He might as well suppose the gift of one talent to be equal to that of ten thousand, and that it would induce an equal return of gratitude; or, that the gift of Moses, or any other prophet, afforded an equal motive to love and obedience, as the gift of Christ.
If, in every stage of religious principle, whether Trinitarian, Arian, or Socinian, by admitting that one general principle, The love of God in giving his Son to die for us, we have the same motive to gratitude and obedience, and that in the same degree; it must be because the greatness or smallness of the gift, is a matter of no consideration, and has no tendency to render a motive stronger or weaker. But this is not only repugnant to the plainest dictates of reason, as hath been already observed, but also to the doctrine of Christ. According to this, He that hath much forgiven, loveth much; and he that hath little forgiven, loveth little. From hence, it appears, that the system which affords the most extensive views of the evil of sin, the depth of human apostacy, and the magnitude of
* Defence of Unitarianism, for 1786, pp. 101, 102, VOL. IT. 26