Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The divine, who next to President Edwards took the most conspicuous part in this revival, was Dr. Bellamy, and contributed his part towards the northern errors. This geotleman was born at Cheshire, in the county of New-Haven, 1719, and was educated at Yale college, the seminary in which nearly all the Connecticut clergy have gone through their studies preparatory to the ministry, and which from its foundation has been a highly respectable seminary. In 1740, he was settled in Woodbury. As soon as the revival commenced, he itinerated as a preacher, every where fanning the flame kindled by Whitefield. He was a very pious and industrious man, but possessed less learning and acuteness than Edwards. In a system of theology which he afterwards published, we find almost the same views, which were taught by Cameron and Amyraut at Saumur. His chief errors were relative to the extent of the atonement, the steps preparatory to pardon, which he maintains is preceded by repentance, and in relation to our natural powers. On the first of these points he says:* God therefore through Jesus Christ stands ready to pardon the whole world; there is nothing in the way.” Again, “ If Christ died only for the elect, that is, to the intent that they only upon believing, might consistently with the divine honour he received to favour, then God could not consistently with his justice, save any besides, if they should believe.” Much more might be quoted to the same purpose. He denied the doctrine of substitution.

On the subject of our natural and moral powers his conceptions were indistinct, partly perhaps from unwillingness to abandon the doctrines in which he had been educated, and partly from a partial adoption of the “new light” creed of Whitefield. He says, “ whether we are beings of as large natural powers as we should have been had we never apostatized from God, or not, yet this is plain, we are no where in scripture blamed for having no larger natural powers.” Others improved upon this system. They soon began to teach that the atonement was made without any relation to

* Vol. I. p. 381, of his works, p. 383.

any individual; and merely to satisfy the general justice of God, so that all might be saved, or none, according as they should believe; yet they maintained that faith is the gift of God, in consequence of eternal election. On the subject of man's natural powers they said, that he was fully able to perform every thing commanded of God, but yet that he could not will without divine aid; as if volition were not required.

Such opinions as these introduced during a state of great excitement in the public mind, when Christians were not in a state to reason, spread with rapidity,

While incorrect views of the philosophy of the human mind, of the foundation of virtue; and while the Armi. nian errors, from various sources, were spreading themselves through the churches to the north, the condition of the church in the middle states was rather improving. The divisions, which had been produced by Whitefield's revival, were healed; the majority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church was orthodox, on the doctrines of grace; and many of them were opposed to that latitudinarianism, which treats with great courtesy all who profess to be Christians, whatever their tenets may be. This was tested by the arrival of Dr. Joseph Priestley in America. When he arrived in Philadelphia, the celebrity which he had acquired as a philosopher, chiefly as

philosopher, chiefly as a chemist, procured him much attention, from many distinguished men; but the Presbyterian clergy did not recognize him as a minister of Christ Jesus; nor indeed did those of any of the Christain societies in the city. They were aware of his heretical opinions, and were resolved to shew him no countenance. Though he was introduced to many of the clergy, yet none of them invited him into their pulpits. In the Philadelphia academy there is a room appropriated to divine worship on the sabbath, for any denomination of Christians, who have no place of their own. In this Dr. Priestley was permitted to deliver his lectures, and was heard by crowded audiences, whom curiosity to hear a man of such celebrity drew together. Those opinions which he knew

were obnoxious, were kept out of view till the last lecture which he delivered, in which he unfolded, without disguise, his Socinian heresies. Some of the clergy of the city occasionally heard these lectures.

He formed an acquaintance with Dr. Ewing, and on one sabbath went with him to his church in Market street. The doctor introduced Priestley into his pew, without giving him an invitation into his pulpit, as was his custom, with those gentlemen whom he recoguized as brethren in the ministry. The preachers too attacked, with great faithfulness, the heresies which Priestley was endeavouring to disseminate. He and his Socinian brethren were greatly offended with these insults, as they called them, and with the opposition made to his creed. They represented him as a persecuted apostle. Little did they consider that he was endeavouring to destroy every thing, which the great body of Christians, from the beginning of the world, had held most sacred, that he was attempting to pluck the crown from the head of the Messiah, whom they adored, and to wrest from them all those hopes of salvation, which were founded upon his atoning sacrifice. Though much respect was shewn to the philosophical foreigner as a man of science, in both New York and Philadelphia, yet as his heresies rendered his very name unsavory to nearly all Christians, his situation was far from being comfortable. He indeed professed no anxiety to disseminate his principles, but as we learn from his life, and from some of his letters published since his death, it was the governing principle of all his actions, after he came to America. Among the common people he made little progress, but they were not the persons whom he was chiefly solicitous to gain over in the first instance. His object was the great. Among the distinguished persons with whom he became intimate was Mr. John Adams, at that time vicepresident of the United States; who was his constant hearer while in Philadelphia,* and who it is said received the sa- . crament at his hands. Mr. Adams was no doubt honest in his preference of Dr. Priestley's ministry; on account of the

• Priestley's Life, Vol. II. p. 760.

creed which he held. Long before that period he was called an Arminian. Though we have no decisive testimony that Mr. Adams became a convert to the Socinian creed, yet from the honesty of his character, and the preference which he gave to Priestley's ministry, hardly a shadow of doubt exists that he did. In 1796, the first volume of Priestley's Evidences of revealed religion was published, and dedicated to the vice-president. To proselyte a president was in his view almost to convert a nation. In 1797, Mr. Adams was inaugurated president of the United States; and thus there is good reason to believe that the creed of Socinus was elevated to the highest official rank in the republic.

An offer was made to Dr. Priestley in the University of Pennsylvania, which he refused to accept, and settled in the town of Northumberland; from which he corresponded with the president.

Soon after Mr. Adams's elevation to the presidential chair, there was a commissioner to be appointed to Great Britain for the settlement of some important concerns. Before that time Thomas Cooper, Esq., Dr. Priestley's friend, had arrived from Europe. Mr. Cooper was his theological disciple and of the same political creed. Priestley wrote to President Adams, a letter, recommending Cooper as a fit person to be appointed on the embassy to England. The president with some temper, rejected the proposition, declaring that there were Americans capable of filling such stations. Dr. Priestley now perceived that Mr. Adams did not suit his purpose; that many acts of his administration were obnoxious to the people; that Pennsylvania was a powe erful state, whose weight thrown into an opposite scale, would probably change the administration; and that he could perhaps produce more effect upon a person of another character, at the head of the government. He took his measures accordingly. A newspaper was established at Northumberland, under the patronage of Dr. Priestley and the friend on whose behalf he had made application. Many circumstances relative to this establishment and its editor were not very honourable to the doctor and his friend. In

this paper Dr. Priestley published several addresses to the people of Northumberland,* and in relation to the political state of the country. These addresses and numerous other articles from his pen, and that of Mr. Cooper, were published, not only in Northumberland, but circulated, by other papers, over the whole state, and produced very great effect on the election of an opposition governor in Pennsylvania; by which the whole weight of Pennsylvania was thrown into the scale in favour of Mr. Jefferson. He supplanted Mr. Adams. Though there were various other causes operating to produce this great political change, yet without the aid of Dr. Priestley and that of his friends' agency in Pennsylvania it is probable they would all have been ineffectual. Thus that Redeemer who governs the nations, made the very man, whom Mr. Adams had counte, nanced in his opposition to Messiah’s divinity, one of the principal instruments of degrading him from the high station to which he had been elevated.

Priestley had great hopes of proselyting Mr. Jefferson to the faith of Socinus. He sent him a copy of his Comparison between Jesus Christ and Socrates, and received in return a complimentary letter from the president, who says he read the Comparison with great pleasure, and that he himself had promised Dr. Rush, in 1798-9, to write him a letter giving his views of the system of Jesus,-in which view, he says, he should have compared the system of Jesus with those of Pythagoras, Epictetus, &c. He says the view which he had proposed to take, “ would purposely omit the question of his” (Christ's) “ divinity, and even of his inspiration. To do him" (Christ) “justice it would be necessary to remark the difficulties, which his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him, when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in parodoxical

[ocr errors]

* Life of Priestley, vol. I. p. 201, 2, 3, 4.

« AnteriorContinuar »