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IN ANSWER TO HIS
HISTORY OF THE CORRUPTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY.
THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WAS UNITARIAN.
BY JOSEPH PRIESTLEY, LL.D. F.R.S.
Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it
My design in writing the History of the Corruptions. of Christianity, it will easily be perceived, was to compose a work proper for the use of all christians, learned and unlearned, and indeed chiefly the latter. Also, having an extensive object before me, I did not give much more attention to one part of the scheme than to another. On these accounts I avoided all unnecessary quotations from original writers in the languages in which they wrote, especially in Greek, which I had great difficulty in getting printed; but I gave some passages that were of particular value, and in Latin, and distinctly referred to as many others as I had actually made use of myself; making a point of referring to none, at first or second hand, of which I saw any reason to doubt.
It has happened that hitherto the first article in my work, viz. The History of Opinions concerning Christ, has attracted the more particular notice of critics, which has led me to study this subject more than I should otherwise have done; and I think it will probably engage my attention some time longer. Indeed, as the question is of particular importance, I think it right to take every method in my power to invite and promote the fullest discussion of it. With this view, I replied to some remarks of a writer in The Monthly Review, which, though not in the least affecting my principal argument, gave me an opportunity to add some new illustrations.
Dr. Horsley's Charge to his Clergy has afforded me another opportunity of re-examining the subject; and the result, which is now before the reader, has been, as I think, a further illustration and a stronger confirmation of my original position, viz. that the belief that Christ was a mere man, naturally possessed of no other powers than other men have, but a distinguished messenger of God, and the chief instrument in his hands for the good of men, was the original faith of the christian church, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles.
This controversy, I hope, will continue, either with Dr. Horsley or some other person. Nothing, however, shall be wanting on my part to keep it up, so long as any new light shall appear to be thrown upon the question in debate; and after this I intend to compose an entire work on this subject only; stating, in as clear a light as I shall be able, the evidence of the above important truth (for such I cannot help considering it) as it shall then appear to me, with all the proper authorities in the original languages, and leave it to make whatever impression it may on the minds of others, having then done my duty with respect to it.
In the mean time, I am by no means sanguine in my expectations from the effect of the most forcible arguments, on the minds of those who are at present indisposed to receive the opinion that I contend for, in consequence of strong early prejudices in favour of a different one; prejudices which have been confirmed by much reading, thinking, and conversation, especially if those who are influenced by them be advanced in life. It is happy for the cause of truth, as well as other valuable purposes, that man is mortal; and that while the species continues, the individuals go off the
stage. For otherwise the whole species would soon arrive at its maximum in all improvements, as individuals now do.
If any person ought to have candour for others in this respect, I ought; having had abundant experience of the difficulty with which deep-rooted prejudices give way to the strongest evidence, even when the mind is naturally active, and the attention is constantly kept in a state of inquiry. On this account, a short history of the progress of my own thoughts with respect to this subject may be useful. To myself the reflection upon it is highly so, at the same time that it is not a little humbling.
Having been educated in the strictest principles of Calvinism, and having from my early years had a serious turn of mind, promoted no doubt by a weak and sickly constitution, I was very sincere and zealous in my belief of the doctrine of the trinity; and this continued till I was about nineteen; and then I was as much shocked on hearing of any who denied the divinity of Christ (thinking it to be nothing less than impiety and blasphemy) as any of my opponents can be now. I therefore truly feel for them, and most sincerely excuse them.
About the age of twenty, being then in a regular course of theological studies, I saw reason to change my opinion, and became an Arian; and notwithstanding what appeared to me a fair and impartial study of the scriptures, and though I had no bias on my mind arising from subscribed creeds, and confessions of faith, &c. I continued in that persuasion fifteen or sixteen years; and yet in that time I was well acquainted with Dr. Lardner, Dr. Fleming, and several other zealous