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way. See Luke xi, 1-13; Jam. i, 5—8. And this is so far from being inconsistent with moral agency in this our state of trial for eternity, that the trial eminently consists, with respect to those to whom the promise is given, in their submitting, or not submitting, to its gracious import. In short, for "the heart to be "established with grace," Heb. xiii, 9, is the best preparative for using our freedom well, and the best preservative in the line of truth. And if after all, our pretensions to sincerity and teachableness, the love of truth and impartiality in seeking it, are equal, and yet our sentiments differ, there is no remedy in this world; to our common Master we stand or fall; our own judgment of ourselves, as well as that of our fellowcreatures concerning us, must be equally submitted to the Judge of the whole earth. "Every way of man "is right in his own eyes; but the Lord pondereth the "heart," Prov. xxi, 2.
I must confess, dear sir, that I was much grieved, when I perused the following sentence, which you not only suffered to drop from your pen, but to be published to the world: "If, to your arguments you can even "add miracles, the doctrine you propose (i. e. personal "distinctions in the Deity) could not be received."* What a reflection upon the Christian church; and upon millions of the most distinguished pious characters in every age! But though the expressions are strong, and your conviction such as they represent it to be, yet you must allow, that it is possible you may be in a mistake; for such have been the convictions of many persons in favor of an erroneous sentiment, as to stand firm against actual miracles, repeated miracles, performed in proof of a contrary sentiment. Your own observation will justify and illustrate this remark: "The prejudices of some persons against the clearest "and most important truths may be so strong (as we "see in the case of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Sa"vior's time) that no evidence will convince them.”†
*Defences of Unitar. for 1788 and 1789, p. 176. †Sermon on the proper conduct of Dissenters, with respect to the Test Act, p. 10.
$13. If you condescend, sir, to peruse these volumes, you will find that the Author, who, for depth of erudition, and extent of knowledge, proper for an accomplished divine, has been excelled by few, if any; you will find, that he undertakes no less a task than to demonstrate, that this Epistle to the Hebrews teaches doctrines and facts, which utterly overthrow the opinions you espouse concerning the person and priesthood of Christ. His foundation is not laid upon the surface; he first demonstrates the canonical authority of the epistle, before he proceeds to investigate the contents of it; and the latter he does in the light of preceding revelations, and a very enlarged acquaintance with Judaism, both ancient and modern, in its pure and corrupted state. His exposition, reasoning, and doctrines, are all along founded on the general scope of the passage he is upon; and it will not be easy for any one to convict him of mistake, without shewing, that he has mistaken the main design of the epistle itself, which, in my opinion, would be a Herculean task.
$14. Before I conclude, I have one remark to make, which, I presume, is not altogether unworthy your attention. It is this: if the Nazarenes and Ebionites were what you have represented them to be, Jewish Christians, who held the mere humanity of Christ, and who may be traced to the very age of the apesties, the plain inference is, that this Epistle to the Hebrews was intended, by the Author of it, and by him who is Head over all things to the church, as an antidote to counteract such an opinion in the most direct manner: and were the historical evidence of the positions you have advanced, sir, concerning the person and offices of the Messiah, a thousand times more clear than it is, or is likely to be, the irrefragable conclusion is, that the writer of this epistle, and all who embraced his doctrine, were displeased with them, in that very thing for which you seem to caress them. And if any of the Nazarenes themselves submitted to what it plainly inculcates, they must have abandoned the sentiments you ascribe to them; or if they did not,
their obstinate refusal stands condemned by it in every page.
But "Paul often reasons inconclusively;" a bold charge! and a charge destitute of proof. Now, supposing, without granting, that "he wrote as any other "person of his turn of mind and thinking, and in his "situation, would have written without any par"ticular inspiration:" It is but reasonable to say, that the number of his converts, and of the churches founded by him, was very considerable; and that they imbibed his sentiments to a great degree, at least, appear from his writings addressed to many of them; now, upon what principle of reason and equity can we gather, that Ebion and his adherents, holding contrary opinions, deserve the honor of being better qualified to rectify our judgments concerning points of the greatest importance in Christianity, in preference to Paul, and the churches founded by him? Were the Nazarenes infallible? or did Ebion ever reason inconclusively? Was the church at Jerusalem infallible? or were their pastors more conclusive reasoners than Paul? If they were, upon what principle; if not, why impeach his apostolic teaching in particular (in which we may presume he sometimes reasoned) and degrade his abilities? The truth is, that St. Paul was a wise master-builder, who laid the foundation of many churches, and edified them in the most holy faith, by his preaching and his pen. From Jerusalem, and round about into Illiricum, he fully preached the gospel of Christ; he was sent by Christ himself to open men's eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; he was an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father) and certified his converts, that the gospel he preached was not after man; for he saith, "I neither "received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the "revelation of Jesus Christ."
Upon the whole, for any one to prefer a few obscure accounts of a few obscure persons, to the accounts we have of the commission, authority, principles, and rea
sonings of this Man of God, by which to form our judgments concerning true Christianity, appears to me, like a person who should prefer a heterogeneous mixture of iron and clay, to pure gold; and then, to make his wisdom appear more consummate, that he should, after having once made the choice, rummage all the musty scraps of antiquity for something that may help to stamp a current value on it, and to depreciate what has been thus renounced. In reality, the Nazarenes were ignorant of the true nature of the gospel; whatever instructions they were favored with, they had made little proficiency in the school of Christ; else why should they be so tenacious of what all the apostles labored to dispossess them of? Why attempt to build again, what they had unanimously, and by Divine direction, been pulling down? I forbear enlarging; but disinterested observers of what is going on among us, will be ready to exclaim: "Surely we may "congratulate the humility (if we cannot the wisdom) "of the eighteenth century, so famous for many other "interesting and memorable exploits, while we behold "its "most rational divines," after struggling for liber"ty, and improving science, commencing, with no "small complacency, the obsequious disciples of these "obscure, ignorant, anti-apostolic Nazarenes and Ebi"onites."*
*The following passage from a late learned and acute Reviewer, of the "History of Corruption," &c. appears to me so just, and so much to the purpose, that I cannot forbear transcribing it: "But an indifferent reader may, perhaps, stop the disputants in this career of controversy, and ask them, of what importance it is to the main object of the debate between them, to know what the opinions of these Nazarenes were; especially as it is a point agreed upon between both, that these Nazarenes, whatever their principles of faith might have been, were ignorant and bigotted observers of the Mosaic law, which both the orthodox and heretics acknowledge to have been abrogated by the death of Christ? Do they stand so high in the scale of authority, that we should appeal to them in the decision which respected the nature and person of Jesus Christ? What is gained on the one hand, and what is lost on the other, by settling this dispute, supposing it capable of being settled at all? A very proper question! and the answer we shall make to it is this: That
Wishing that you may possess an abundant measure of the Divine teaching, promised in the sacred oracles,
though the believers in the pre-existence of Christ have a thousand testimonies to appeal to, in proof of their faith, yet this seems to be the last resort of the Socinian, when he is called on to produce authority for his principles in the primitive ages. Deprive the Socinian of this twig of antiquity, and he is ready to make the same lamentable outcry, that was made by Micah in old times: "You have taken away my gods, in whom I trust"ed, and what have I more?"
"The argument drawn out in form is the following: The first Christians were called Nazarenes. Those who afterwards went by that name, were their genuine followers; but those succeeding Nazarenes did not believe that Jesus Christ had a pre-existent nature; therefore, it was not a doctrine believed by the first Christians, because the later Nazarenes transmitted their opinions (at least on this head) in their original purity, without the adulterations of those who were afterwards called orthodox.
"There are many things in this argument which may be doubted, and some which may be denied. If the Nazarenes were the members of the original church of Christ, and the genuine followers of the apostles, how came they so far to counteract the design of the Christian institution, as to mix with the ordinances of the gospel, the abrogated ceremonies of the Mosaic law? Was such conduct, in any respect, authorized by the New Testament? Was it not in direct opposition, both to the conduct and instructions of the apostle Paul? We know what such a Nazarene as Toland would say on this subject; but what would Dr. Priestley say? If the Nazarenes were people of such low and carnal sentiments, so weak in their understandings, and so superstitious in their practices, can we deem them fit authori ties to be appealed to, in contradiction to the concurrent testimony of the most eminent lights of the primitive church? If, in points of practice, in which the laws delivered for their direction were so clear and definite, they still pertinaciously adhered to old and exploded customs, which the gospel had rendered totally useless, is it a matter of any surprise, that they should have fallen into some errors of faith, and maintained, with an obstinacy peculiar to their race, some of the false prejudices of the Jews, relating to the nature and qualifications of the Messiah?
"For our part, we are ready to confess, that if the Nazarenes were, with the Ebionites, given up to the Socinians, who are so eager to claim them as their elder brethren, we do not perceive the very great advantage they would gain by such an acquisition.
"Dr. Priestley is not always careful to keep clear of gratuitous assertion. It is a compendious method of argument; but unless it comes from an oracle, we have a right to admit, or reject it, just as we please. "No person, says he, can, I think, reflect