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Ordination being now no longer confidered in the light of conferring orders, as in Episcopal, and the proper Prefbyterian churches, many of the more liberal Diffenters neglect it altogether; thinking it to encourage fuperftition, and to keep up a mere form when the fubftance is wanting. But when the defign of ordination, as above explained, is well understood, when the perfon ordained fhall have performed every part of the ministerial duty before, as well as after, his ordination, though the name given to the fervice no longer fuggests the idea that was formerly annexed to it, no fuperftition is encouraged. And fince the connexion between a minifter and his congregation, and especially the first that he forms, is a very serious concern, there cannot, furely, be any impropriety, but on the contrary the greateft propriety, in making it an occafion of folemn prayer; and then exhortation or admonition, from a minister of greater age and experience, to one who has but lately entered upon the office, is particularly feasonable. I cannot help, therefore, expreffing my wifh, that fome fervice, to which the name of ordination may well enough be given, may be kept up among us, at the fame time that every precaution is taken to prevent superstition with respect to it.
Birmingham. Nov. 1, 1790.
The Correfpondence with Mr. Gibbon.
Dr. Prieftley's Card to Mr. Gibbon.
DR. PRIESTLEY prefents his compliments to Mr. Gibbon, begs his acceptance of a copy of his History of the Corruptions of Christianity, and requests his particular attention to the General Conclufion, Part I.
Dec. 11, 1782.
Mr. Gibbon's First Letter.
As a mark of your esteem, I fhould have accepted with pleasure your Hiftory of the Corruptions of Christianity. You have been careful to inform me that it is intended not as a gift, but as a challenge; and fuch a challenge you must permit me to decline. At the fame time, fince you glory in outstripping the zeal of the Mufti and the Lama, it may be proper for me to declare, that I should equally refuse the defiance of those venerable Divines. Once, and once only, the just
defence of my own veracity provoked me to defcend into the amphitheatre; but as long as you attack opinions which I have never maintained, and maintain principles which I have never denied, you may fafely exult in my filence, and your own victory. The difference between us (on the credibility of miracles) which you chufe to fuppofe, and wish to argue, is a trite and antient topic of controverfy; and from the opinion which you entertain of yourself, and of me, it does not appear probable, that our difpute would either edify, or enlighten the public.
That public will decide to whom the invidious name of unbeliever more juftly belongs to the historian, who, without interpofing his own fentiments, has delivered a fimple narrative of authentic facts, or to the difputant, who proudly rejects all natural proof of the immortality of the foul, overthrows (by circumfcribing) the inspiration of the Evangelifts and Apoftles, and condemns the religion of every Christian nation as a fable less innocent, but no lefs abfurd, than Mahomet's journey to the third Heavens.
And now, Sir, fince you affume a right to determine the objects of my paft and future ftudies, give me leave to convey to your ear the almost unanimous, and not offenfive, wish of the philofophic world: that you would confine your ta
lents and industry to thofe fciences in which real and useful improvements can be made. Remember the end of your predeceffor Servetus, not of his life (the Calvins of our days are restrained from the use of the fame fiery arguments) but I mean the end of his reputation. His theological writings are loft in oblivion; and if his book on the trinity be still preserved, it is only because it contains the first rudiments of the discovery of the circulation of the blood.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient humble Servant,
It would have been impertinent in me, especially confidering the object of my History, to have fent you a copy of it as a mark of my esteem, or friendship. What I meant was to act the part of a fair and open adverfary; and I am truly forry that you decline the difcuffion I propofed. For though you are of a different opinion, I do not think that either of us could be better employed; and fhould the Mufti and the Lama (whofe challenge you fay you would alfo decline)· become parties in the bufinefs, I fhould rejoice the more.
I do not well know what you can mean by intimating that I am "a greater unbeliever than yourfelf; that I attack opinions which you never "maintained, and maintain principles which you "never denied." If you mean to affert that you are a believer in Chriftianity, and meant to recommend it, I muft fay that your mode of writing has been very ill adapted to gain your purpofe. If there be any certain method of difcovering a man's real object, yours has been to difcredit Christianity in fact, while, in words you represent yourself as a friend to it; a conduct which I fcruple not to call highly unworthy and mean, an infult on the common fenfe of the Chriftian world. As a method of screening you from the notice of the law (which is as hoftile to me as it is to you) you must know that it could avail you nothing; and though that mode of writing might be deemed ingenious and witty, in the first inventer of it, it has been too often repeated to deferve that appellation now.
According to your own rule of conduct, this charge ought to provoke you to defcend into the amphitheatre once more, as much as the accufation of Mr. Davis. For it is a call upon you to defend not your principles only, but also your bonour. For what can reflect greater dishonour upon a man, than to fay one thing and mean another?