Images de page

monkish darkness, ecclesiastical history informs us of some, who would not receive the mark of the beast; but still preserved a sense of the proper unity of God, and the purity of the Christian faith. And perhaps if we had more authentic records of these times, we might find the number of these persons greater than is generally imagined. For the severity of the clerical power was such, that people of this description were driven into corners, and were obliged to keep an awful silence.

Such was the state of the religious world: so corrupted and depraved was that church which Jesus Christ himself established, when Luther, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, made his first appearance, and called for a reformation. Some attempts had been made in this good work many years before, by Wickliffe and others; but the times did not favour them. It must be owned, that the Christian world is under the greatest obligations to Luther, Zuinglius, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, and others, for removing many of the corruptions of Popery ; and their memories ought ever to be revered on that account.It is only to be regretted that their reformation was partial and incomplete; that they did not go deep enough; that they did not probe the wound that Christianity had received, to the. bottom, and perform a radical cure. The reformers laid the scriptures open to the world; they took away the idolatrous worship and invocation of the Virgin Mary, angels and saints; set aside transubstantiation, images, indulgencies, and many superstitious and useless ceremonies, &c. and may they ever be applauded for so doing; but left behind, I speak it with infinite sorrow, they left behind the source and cause of the whole disorder, a trinity of divine co-equal persons or intelligent agents, the divinity of Christ, and his equality with the God and Father of all; and the incarnation of God in human flesh. These doctrines, which appear to me to be the most destructive and pernicious part of Popery, they did not examine with sufficient accuracy, but implicitly received them from the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, and the Popish schoolmen, as the most sacred and important of all truths transferred them into what is called (but improperly) the reformed religion; and even persecuted, with the utmost severity, such of their contemporaries as were more enlightened and better informed in these respects than themselves. And this brings me to speak of Ser.

vetus, Lælius, and Faustus Socinus, Andreas Dudithius, Franciscus Davides, &c. who all of them appeared in the same age, and the two first were contemporaries of Luther and Calvin. These men had an equal if not superior title to the appellation of reformers. Like Luther and Calvin they had been educated in the errors of Popery; and like them they also were superior to the prejudices of education, yielded to the force of evidence, departed from the communion of the church of Rome, and carried the reformation much farther than Luther and Calvin had done. The tenets of these two last mentioned reformers, had indeed the good fortune to be patronized by states and princes, and established in various countries; while our Unitarian reformers met with little else but opposition and persecution. But the patronage and public countenance that the one party received in different states and kingdoms, is no more a proof of the truth of their religious system, than the establishment and prevalence of Popery in other countries, is a proof of the truth of the tenets of Roman catholics. Nor can the repeated discouragements, mortifications, and fierce opposition, that our honoured Unitarian brethren suffered at the time of the reformation and for long after, be urged as an argument against their principles, any more than the trials, troubles, and sufferings, that our Lord and his apostles underwent in publishing the gospel; and the hostility of the civil powers and the greatest part of the world to Christianity, for three centuries after Christ, can be urged as an argument against the truth of the Christian religion. If a comparison is made betwixt the characters, abilities, and literary qualifications, of our Unitarian reformers, and those who are called orthodox, it will not turn out to the disadvantage of the former.. Servetus was a physician, a man of genius, learning, and piety; who wrote several treatises against the trinity at a very early period; and at last sealed his doctrine with his blood. And Calvin has left an indelible blot upon his own memory, by beginning and conducting the prosecution against him, and consenting to his death. Lælius Socinus was one of the most learned persons of his age, eminently skilled in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, a man of great modesty, and virtue, who instilled his principles into many, and died peaceably a voluntary exile from his native country at Zurich in Switzerland. Faustus Socinus, nephew of

the preceding, although not so profoundly learned as his uncle, was yet a man of competent learning, and great good sense, as appears from his writings. He profited much from the papers that Loelius had bequeathed him, containing remarks and critical observations on the scriptures, and made use of them in the composition of his works. He was a man of high birth, descended from an ancient and noble family; which was connected with some of the most eminent persons in Italy. He enjoyed the friendship of the grand Duke of Tuscany, and might have spent his days with distinction and applause at the court of Florence, then the politest and most enlightened in arts and literature in Europe. Yet all these advantages he nobly sacrificed for the cause of God and truth, renounced the society of the great and learned, lost his paternal estate, retired to Basil in Switzerland, where he completed his studies; and from thence went to Transylvania and Poland, and solicited an admittance into those churches which acknowledged only one God the Father. He spent the remainder of his days in these countries, became an eminent labourer in the true church of God which flourished there, and was indefatigable in his endeavours to promote the cause of Unitarianism, which had made a considerable progress in these parts of the world, before his coming there. Andreas Dudithius was a man of fine genius, a most accomplished scholar, and very assiduous in his endeavours to extend the knowledge of God in the world. Franciscus Davides, was an eminent Unitarian minister in Transylvania, and had been an useful instrument in building up the church of God; but ir consequence of an unhappy dispute concerning the worship of Jesus Christ, with Blandrata and Socinus, he ended his days in prison; for which Socinus has been blamed, but he disclaimed his having any hand in the commitment of Davides, although it must be owned he carried his zeal against him and others to an unjustifiable length.These persons and many others besides in the sixteenth century, whose names the brevity I am obliged to observe at present will not permit me to mention, exerted their best endeavours to restore the belief of the Divine Unity, and restore the true worship of God. And although their attempts were unsuccessful in various places, yet their writings and labours were of signal use, and produced a conviction in the minds of many candid

and unprejudiced persons. The Unitarian doctrine prevailed most in Poland and Transylvania, where it enjoyed a free toleration, and many churches were established, and people of dif ferent ranks and stations became converts to it. The Unitarians erected schools and seminaries of learning, and several great critics and able interpreters of scripture appeared among them, whose valuable writings the world yet enjoys the benefit of; and whose distinguished skill in the scriptures has been acknowledged by their adversaries themselves. About the middle of the last century, the Unitarians were deprived of the toleration they possessed in Poland, and were obliged either to leave the country or change their religion, the former of which many of them did. The other sects of Protestants joined with the Roman Catholics in getting this cruel and unjust law enacted; and have since deservedly smarted under the rod of the Papists in their turn. The toleration however was continued in Transylvania, and the Unitarian churches subsist there to this very day, and also in Prussia on the borders of Poland. Those Unitarians who left Poland on account of their religion, contributed to spread the knowledge of the truth in other countries, particularly in Holland, where they had religious assemblies. In England there have been persons who have held Unitarian sentiments since the time of the reformation; but the principle made no great progress until the middle of the last century, when Mr. Biddle appearing an advocate for it, and writing bly on the subject, brought over several persons to the acknowledgment of the truth. The labours of that learned and good man have not been lost; the seed which he sowed has grown up and flourished, and the candle which he lighted has never been extinguished. The excellent, public spirited, and benevolent Mr. Firmin, the disciple of Biddle, contributed also greatly to advance the Unitarian doctrine in our sister kingdom; and some of the most eminent philoscphers, the greatest genuises, and most able scriptural critics that England has produced for near this century past, have been Unitarians, either of the Arian or Socinian denomination. The Trinitarian cause is daily losing ground amongst fair and candid inquirers, who apply themselves to the study of the scriptures with unbiassed minds; and even many of those who groan under the fetters of subscriptions and articles would now be glad to bę

free of these incumbrances; of which the petition presented to parliament several years ago, by upwards of two hundred respectable clergymen of the church of England is a sufficient proof. Thus the Unitarian cause has had a succession of learned and illustrious advocates, from the Reformation down to the present times: and as it is the very original system of Christianity which our Lord and his apostles delivered to the world, it must sooner or later prevail in spite of all opposition. The protestant reformed religion, as it appears in the thirty-nine articles of the church of England, and confession of faith of the church of Scotland, and in other churches, either at home or abroad, formed upon the same plan, is only a miserable composition, an imperfect medium between Popery and true Christianity. For he only can be called a real and consistent Protestant who adheres solely to the scriptures, and protests against all the corruptions that have been introduced into religion: and that system only deserves the title of the reformed religion, which exhibits the faith of Christ as it was once delivered to the saints; thoroughly purified from, and entirely divested of, all those additions and adulterations which have been incorporated with it.--Those who reject some corruptions and retain others, are only Protestants by halves; and the reformation they have effected and established, is only a defective, partial, and inadequate oné, which must be further pursued before any great and valuable end can be answered by it. No power on earth has any right to make laws in matters purely religious, to restrain the progress of free inquiry, to interpret the scriptures authoritatively, and to impose its own sense of them upon others. Christ's kingdom is not of this world, and his subjects are accountable to him alone for their faith and religious profession, and are not amenable to any tribunal. When civil governors and legislators, deserting their proper sphere of action, presume to lay restraints upon conscience, and to deny that unlimited toleration, which is the common right of all mankind, in the important concerns of religion, they act an unjust and tyrannical part, and their arbitrary decrees ought not to be obeyed. A true Christian, a consistent Protestant, will not resign the suggestions of his own conscience, the dictates of his own understanding, the rights of his own private judgment, to any power, either civil or ecclesiastical, on earth. The decisions of the Council of Nice, the Council of

« PrécédentContinuer »