Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ostentation because they present, even to common observers, the innocence of a hermit, and the simplicity of a patriarch; and because a philosophic eye will at once discover in them the deep fixed root of virtuous principle, and the solid trunk of virtuous habit.”

We quote the above to show what is the manner in which great men speak of each other, when differing in religious sentiment; and also to remind our readers that Dr. Priestley's character has always been admired as singularly virtuous and elevated. He is therefore deserving of just treatment by the present generation, and to cast unmerited odium upon him, is a crime to be visited with severe censure. What shall we say then of an attack upon his good name, such as is found in the following extract? It was first published in the American translation of Knapp's Theology, by Leonard Woods jr., of Andover,-a book which has deservedly obtained a very high reputation throughout the country,—and is in a note, not in the original, but inserted by the Translator. The chapter, to which the note is appended, relates to Atheism; in it the author gives several modifications of Atheism, and includes Spinoza, Fichte, Schelling, and others, under the name of Atheist. Upon this, Mr. Woods remarks; “The name of Atheism would seem to be improperly given to the error of those who in any way allow the idea of God, however much their conceptions of him may vary from the truth. These different conceptions may be designated by names more appropriate, and less injurious, than that of Atheism. Thus the doctrine of Fichte, who allows the subjective validity of the idea of God, though he denies its objective reality, is properly called idealism; the doctrine of Spinoza, who removes the individual existence of nature, and transfers it to God, while he retains unaltered the idea of God, as a self-conscious individual, would be properly called ideal pantheism; and that of Schelling who transfers the individual being of God into nature, natural pantheism. These remarks are confirmed by the following quotation from Henke—(which we omit.) Among the ancient Greek philosophers, to whom the name of Atheist would truly apply, we may mention Leucippus, Diagoras of Melos, Protagoras of Abdera, Critias of Athens, Prodicus, and Theodorus of Cyrene; among the Romans, Lucretius; among modern writers, De la Mettrie, Von Holbach, or La Grange, the author of the System of Nature,) Helvetius, Diderot and D'Alembert, (the authors of the French Encyclopedia,) and Joseph Priestley. Mandeville, Edelmann, and Voltaire, appear to have been rather promoters of Atheistical principles, than themselves decided Atheists."

When we first read the above, and came to the name of Dr. Priestley, we could not believe our own eyes. We looked round to feel sure that we were awake. We tasked our memory, in the hope of finding some other Joseph Priestley than the Christian Preacher, to whom to refer the name. For it seemed incredible, that either the bigotry or ignorance of the writer could have been so great, as to couple the names Atheist and Priestley together. But who shall set a limit beyond which human arrogance and sectarian party spirit will not pass? The first part of the note is written with a truly liberal and German spirit, worthy of the book in which it is inserted; we confess that we were surprised at its unusual liberality, for the object of the Translator seems to be, to exculpate every one from the charge of Atheism, for whom he could find a milder name, however much their conceptions of God may vary from the truth.” Theological writers in this country are not often thus sparing in the use of hard names. But alas! for the Translator's kind feelings! Even his charity could not shelter all! There are some for whom no door of escape is found. Mandeville and Voltaire are "promoters of Atheistic principles;" but for Dr. Priestley,--Christian though he called himself, -no name "more appropriate, or less injurious," could be found than the unqualified name of Atheist.

Two or three of the works of this “Atheist” have the following titles:-“Essay on the best method of communicating Religious Knowledge to the members of a Christian Society." "Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion.” “Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, in proof of a God, and a Providence;* with a second part, in defence of Christianity.” “An appeal to the Professors of Christianity, upon their unworthy ideas of the Divine Being.” These works must be quite a curiosity, coming, as Mr. Woods asserts, from one to whom the name of Atheist would truly apply.” To show the manner in which he was accustomed to speak of the Scriptures, we give a sentence from one of his private letters to a particular friend; “The more attention I give to the study of the scriptures, the more attached I am to it: and I hope the time will come, when I shall apply myself to it chiefly. At present I read chiefly with a practical view; and the attentive conside

These letters" he wrote after having been in France where, he says, “I found all the philosophical persons, to whom I was introduced at Paris, unbelievers in Christianity, and even professed Atheists. As I chose on all occasions to appear as a Christian, I was told by some of them, that I was the only person they had ever met with, of whose under standing they had any opinion, who professed to believe Christianity. But on interrogating them, I soon found that they had given no proper attention to the subject, and did not really know what Christianity is," &c.

ration of the facts in the Gospel history has certainly the strongest tendency to impress the heart and influence the life in the most favorable manner. Other studies and other pursuits, that to many others are very proper and useful, appear to me to be altogether insignificant compared to these.” The same letter says, “I am here in the midst of Unbelievers and even Atheists. I had a long conversation with one, an ingenious man, and good writer, who maintained seriously, that man might arise, without a maker, from the earth. They may despise me; I am sure I despise and pity them.”

So it seems that Dr. Priestley is destined like his master, to be everywhere spoken against. In France he suffered reproach for Christ's sake as a believer in God, and now in America, his name is recorded, in a labored, philosophical work, as an Atheist. Shame, shame, upon the man who dares to bring the charge! and he a young man too, with pretensions to learning, and a Christian Minister! we blush for him, and admire at his arrogance. Thus secretly to stab the reputation of a great and good man, whom all sects united to love, when he was alive, and whose memory is now revered by thousands, is an action worthy—of what sort of man? We forbear to say; but we do not wonder that he who could be guilty of it, could also be regardless of the friends of the assailed, whose feelings, he might well have foreseen, had he given time to attend to minor considerations, must be touched to the quick by this new, unheard of accusation.

We would examine this strange charge more particularly, if we could conceive of any probable grounds on which it can be based. This we are unable to do. The charge seems to us altogether gratuitous. It cannot be defended on Theological grounds, for we suppose that the most unjust bigot, upon whom the sun ever shone, would be satisfied, as far as Dr. Priestley's religious opinions are concerned, with the less injurious name” of Deist. This name is often given to Unitarians, by those whose feelings are narrowed by exclusiveness, or embittered by zeal; and for ourselves, we are willing to pardon this much, because of the infirmity of human nature. But as Unitarians, we have never yet been thrust so far from the pale of the church, as to be called Atheist.

We turn then to Dr. Priestley's Philosophical opinions, but here are almost equally at a loss. We know indeed that he was a Materialist; and in this respect we differ from him as widely as it is possible for two opinions to differ. But he did not the less believe in God, nor the less trust in him, nor the less obey him. Should it be said, that a materialist, such as

Dr. Priestley, cannot consistently believe in God, he still is not proved an Atheist. Inconsistency is the true charge. We believe that a Calvinist cannot consistently love his fellow-men, no, not even his own children, until he believes them to be converted; but do we therefore call Calvinists devoid of all natural affection? no, but we say that their good feelings are too deeply implanted by God, to be rooted out by mistaken doctrine, and that, therefore, while they hold the doctrine, they must be inconsistent. We would not charge men with having perverted their whole nature, because they have fallen into one or two errors. No man is so consistent that he can bear to be charged with all the remote consequences of his belief. We are ready to admit, also, that Dr. Priestley's belief in God, was to some degree affected,—we mean that his opinions concerning God may have been somewhat erroneous, in consequence of his philosophical error. This may have been so, although, on our part, it is only conjecture. But error concerning the Divine Being is not Atheism. Who among men understands God? Can we find him out to perfection? Nay, take Mr. Wood's own words,-if indeed they be his, for they seem to us characteristic of a more liberal mind, take the words in the note, whosever they are, they are good words; “The name Atheism would seem to be improperly applied to those who in any way allow the idea of God, however much their ideas may vary from the truth.” What a commentary are these words, upon the conduct of him who can brand with the name of Atheist, a man like Dr. Priestley; who, whatever were his errors, trusted in God with a singular fervency, and was never known to murmur at His will.

We know not whether this will ever meet the eye of Mr. Leonard Woods, jr. But if it should do so, we solemnly demand from him a public apology,--we regard a defence as impossible,- for this, his wanton, unparalleled injustice to the character of Dr. Priestley. He need not be afraid of being too public, or too humble in his acknowledgment. No humility can exceed the arrogance of his attack. Nor will the most public apology fully atone for the insult he has offered to the friends, and to the memory of a good man.

W. G. E.

FRIEND AND FOE.-FROM SCHILLER.
My friend is dear to me---my foe is also useful,
My friend shows me what can do---my foe what I ought.

1. F. C.

ART. VIII.-FREE WILL AND PROVIDENCE.

Although we cannot hope to throw new light upon a point which has been so much handled as Free Will, we yet think it worth while to present a view of it which is not in these times often met with in print. The hard points in this matter, are, it is known, two: first, how can the co-operation of Free Will and the force of motives be explained ? and second, how can Free Will and the particular Providence of God be reconciled?

Upon the first point, few words are needed; we know that we live, are what and whom we are, and in truth know

everything,—by consciousness; we, therefore, need not reason upon this point, nor try to show that Free Will may exist with motives,—it is enough, that if we know we act at all, we know by the same proof, that we act freely. Some opponents of Free Will, tell us that such a thing cannot be, because we are governed by the strongest motive; this means nothing, for we can know which is the strongest motive only by the fact, that it does govern;-and the true question is, why does one motive govern rather another? Though we dare not hope to make clear this cloudy peak in the metaphysic range, we would suggest this,—that Free Will does not so much alter the weight of motives, as direct the attention of the soul to this or that one, thus guiding it by the law, that it can be filled with but one thing at a time.

Taking it, then, as proved by consciousness, not logic, that we have Free Will, we wish to show how its exertion and proper influence agrees with the ceaseless influence of the Deity.

The use of Free Will by any man produces two effects; one upon himself, by giving new strength to Passion or Principle, as it may favor one or the other;—the other upon things without him, thereby acting upon others, or through the medium of circumstances back upon himself:—for instance, one robs another of all he has; the robber produces herein two effects, one upon himself, by giving loose to his evil propensity, which effect is certain and independent of all outward results; -the other upon the person robbed, who may thereby be driven to crime,—and also upon himself, exiling him, it may be, from his country, or leading him to new guilt;-this second set of effects, it will be seen, are not, like the former, the sure result of the man's Free Will; they may, or may not come, as the character of the robbed, the state of the laws, and

« AnteriorContinuar »