Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

theologian, whose hymns are used to this day in the religious services not only of independents, but of almost every other denomination of christians, deviated in his old age very essentially from his former opinions.

Dr. Priestley, one of the few philosophers, who are destined to be celebrated not only in their own age, but throughout all future ages, was born and educated for the ministry among the Independents. After discovering the errors with which he had early beep imbued, he rejected them, joined himself to the unitarians, and laboured with great earnestness to recall others, who had fallen into the same errors, to a better faith; nor are we more indebted to any one for the success, which has attended the doctrine of the divine unity, and for its intreasing diffusion at the present day. Priestley pose sessed many qualities, which fitted him in a peculiar manner for the arduous task of a reformer; an understanding, which seemned prepared to grasp all subjects with equal facility, indefatigable labour, a mind unmoved by danger, a most ardent love of searching for truth, and an admirable talent of communicating his knowledge with ease and clearness. Even his enemies allowed him to be a great man; and those, who knew his benevolence, his candour, his goodness of heart, and above all, his piety, by which he was accustomed to refer all things to God, and to acknowledge his providence with gratitude in prosperity, and with humble submission in adversity,—those who knew him in this char, acter not only saw that he was great, but felt that he was the best of men.

Notwithstanding he laboured with more success in his physical researches than scarcely any one of his time, he would not suffer the glory he thus acquired to seduce him from nobler pursuits. Believing no employment so

honourable, as that of defending the truth of christianity against the skeptical spirit of the age, which was accustomed to regard every thing ancient as unworthy of credit; and being peculiarly qualified by his knowledge of sacred literature and christian antiquity, he devoted himself to the noble work of restoring the religion of Jesus to its primitive purity. It is lamentable, that such a man should experience the ingratitude of the country, which had been so much adorned by the fame of his genius and his discoveries. During the political commotions in France, Priestley was unjustly charged with a desire of promoting excitements in England. This rumour being secretly spread abroad kindled the rage of the people against him; and even under the very eyes of the magistrates, whose duty it was to restrain the populace, his house was attacked, the doors burst open, and his library, philosophical instruments, and manuscripts were committed to the flames; and his own person scarcely escaped in safety. When he reflected, that it would be in vain to appeal to laws from which he could expect no redress, he resolved on seeking a voluntary exile in America, whither he went in the year 1794, and where he died a few years afterwards, forgiving the injuries of his country, and joyfully cherishing the christian's hope. There are very few Englishmen, it is fondly believed, who will not blush to read this short memorial; and if it be lawful to look into futurity, we venture to predict, that still fewer will be found among their posterity, who will not look back with regret and astonishment to this indelible reproach on their country's gratitude.*

* Priestley's residence in America was chiefly at Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he died on the 6th of February, 1804. He

A short time before his esile, Priestley was instrumental in forming a society in London, called, “The Unitarian Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, and the Practice of Virtue, by the Distribution of Books.” The object of this society was twofold. First, that all, who believe “there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,“ might have a common bond of union, and a means of combining their strength. Secondly, that such books as are adapted to the diffusion of correct views of christian doctrines, and to the promotion of virtue and piety, might be printed and distributed at a small expense. Among other benefits, which have resulted from this society, it ought particularly to be mentioned, that under its auspices an improved version of the New Testament was published, in the year 1808, according to the text of Griesbach, with marginal notes, and a critical preface. The society is now in a flourishing state, under the care of Thomas Rees L. L. D. who has lately translated the Racovian Catechism into English, and enriched it with notes. Many other institutions of this description have

since sprung up in different parts of England, so that i in some one of them almost every unitarian society is included. With these, it is not uncommon to have as. sociated what are called “Christian Tract Societies, which are designed for the distribution of such books as have a practical, rather than a controversial tendency.

published several works at Northumberland, among which were his “Notes on all the Books of Scripture,” in four volumes; and his "Church History,” in six volumes. The two first volumes of this latter work had been printed in England. Four others were now added.

When Priestley was on the eve of his departure for America, he expressed himself as follows in a letter to a friend; “I leave this country with every good wish, not only to my friends, but to my enemies; and hope, that when prejudices are removed, we shall meet in a beller state.” To this amiable and christian spirit, bis whole life bore testimony.

Ev.

The trinitarian controversy, heretofore engrossed by the learned, thus passed into the humbler classes of society; whence it soon became necessary, that the pulpit should be made to cooperate with the press, and some measures adopted for the relief of such societies and individuals, as became sufferers by an open renunciation of the popular creeds. Accordingly, an association was formed in 1806, called, “The Unitarian Fund for the Promotion of Unitarianism, by means of popular Preaching." The objects of this society are, first, to afford aid to congregations, whose means are inadequate to a regular administration of the ordinances of religion; secondly, to maintain a body of itinerant preachers, whose office it is to expound the Scriptures to the people upon unitarian principles; and thirdly, to provide for such rninisters, as have been reduced to want by a public profession of unitarian sentiments. This institution has teuded more than any other to combine and animate the efforts of English Unitarians. By its aid the pure truths of the Gospel have been widely proclaimed. Zealous and able inissionaries have traversed England and Wales. Scotland also has been the field of their labours, where several unitarian churches have been planted, and a powerful impulse has been imparted to the progress of truth. The proceedings of the society have, till of late, been directed by the Rev. Robert Aspland, the worthy pastor of the church over which Price and Priestley once presided. Its concerns are now conducted by the Rev. W. J. Fox, minister of the

Unitarian Society in Parliament Court, Artillery Lane, London.

Ireland has not yet been embraced in the unitarian missions. Numbers in that island, professing Arianism, adhere to the Presbyterian discipline, but it does not appear, that there exists a body of christians convening fer public worship, to whom the term unitarian is strictly applicable. In the north and south of Ireland there are doubtless many, as in England, who are favourable to the unitarian faith, yet are content to remain in the church of their fathers?

The civil condition of unitarians at the present day is the same as with other Dissenters. They are indulged in the free exercise of their religion; but all are alike excluded from the honours of the state, who do not conform to the establishment. They are eligible, however, to a seat in parliament; and the law, which imposed upon them the severest penalties, was repealed in 1815, at the motion of William Smith, himself a unitarian, whose services during thirty years in the cause of liberty, entitle him to a high rank among British patriots. This statute, however, had been silently abrogated by disuse.

The necessity of subscription having excluded all unitarian youth from the national universities, it was judged expedient to erect a seminary for their use. It is situated at York, and is under the charge of the Rev. Charles Wellbeloved, who is likewise the professor of divinity. The grand principle of study, which he adopts, is, that neither his own opinions, nor those of others shall be taken as necessarily true, but that the students, after collecting all the thoughts of learned and pious men of various persuasions, which can throw light on the Scriptures, shall be allowed to judge for them

« AnteriorContinuar »