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IN A SERIES OF LETTERS, ADDRESSED TO THE FRIENDS OF VITAL
AND PRACTICAL RELIGION.
TO WHICH IS ADDED,
ESTABLISHING THE PRINCIPLE OF THE WORK AGAINST THE EXCEPTIONS
OP DR. TOULMIN, MR. BELSHAM, &c.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
THE following Letters are addressed to the friends of vital and practical religion, because the author is persuaded that the very essence of true piety is concerned in this controversy; and that godly men are the only proper judges of divine truth, being the only humble, upright, and earnest inquirers after it. So far from thinking, with Dr, Priestley, 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 ;" he is satisfied that persons of that description have a most powerful bias against the truth. Though it were admitted, that false principles, accompanied with a bigoted attachment to them, are worse than none; yet he cannot admit, that irreligious men are destitute of principles. He has no notion of human minds being unoccupied or indifferent : he that is not a friend to religion in any mode, is an enemy to it in all modes ; he is a libertine ; he doeth evil, and therefore, hateth the light. And shall we compliment such a character, by acknowledging bim to be in " a favourable situation for distinguishing between truth and falsehood ?"** God forbid! It is he that doeth his will, that shall know of his doctrine. The hum. ble, the candid, the upright inquirers after truth, are the persons who are likely to find it; and to them the author takes the liberty to appeal.
The principal occasion of these Letters was, the late union among Protestant Dissenters, in reference to civil affairs, having been the source of various misconception, and, as the writer apprehends, improved as a mean of disseminating Socinian principles.
In the late application to Parliament, for the repeal of the Core poration and Test Acts, the Dissenters have united, without any respect to their doctrinal principles. They considered themselves as applying merely for a civil right; and that, in such an application, difference in theological sentiment had no more concern than it has in the union of a nation under one civil head or form of government.
* Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 95.
This union, however, has become an occasion of many reflections. Serious men of the Established Church have expressed their surprise, that some Dissenters could unite with others, so opposite in their religious principles ; and, had the union been of a religious nature, it must, indeed have been surprising. Others have supposed, that the main body of Dissenters had either imbibed the Socinian system, or were hastily approaching towards it. Whether the suggestion of Dr. Horsley, that "the genuine Calvinists, among our modern Dissenters, are very few," has contributed to this opinion, or, whatever be its origin, it is far from being just. Every one who knows the Dissenters, knows that the body of them are what is commonly called orthodox. Dr. Priestley, who is well known to be sufficiently sanguine, in estimating the numbers of his party ; so sanguine, that, when speaking of the common people of this country, he reckons “nine out of ten of them would prefer a Unitarian to a Trinitarian liturgy ;'* yet acknowledges, in regard to the Dissenters, that Unitarians are by far the minority. In Birmingham, where the proportion of their number, to the rest of the Dissenters, is greater than in any town in the kingdom, it appears, from Dr. Priestley's account of the matter, that those called orthodox are nearly three to one : and throughout England and Wales, they have been supposed to be 16 as two, if not as three to one, to the Socinians and Arians inclusive.”+
If Dr. Horsley found it necessary, in support of his cause, to overturn Dr. Priestley's assertion, that “great bodies of men do
* Defence of Unitarianism, for 1786, p. 61.
+ See Dr. Priestley's Familiar Letters to the Inhabitants of Birmingham, Letters III. XI. Also, Mr. Parry's Remarks on the Resolutions of the War. wick Meeting