« AnteriorContinuar »
my brethren, swear not ; neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any othe;' oath ; but let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall into condemnation.'
“From the same sacred collection of the most excellent precepts of moral and religious duty, from the example of our Lord himself, and from the corresponding convictions of his Spirit in their hearts, they are confirmed in the belief, that wars and fightings are in their origin and effects utterly repugnant to the Spirit and doctrines of Christ, who by excellency is called the Prince of Peace.
“ They affirm that it is not lawful for Christians either to give or receive such flattering titles of honour, as your Holiness, your Majesty, your Excellency, &c. Neither do they think it right to use what are commonly called compliments; such as your humble servant, your most obedient servant, &c. They affirin that it is not lawful for Christians to kneel, or prostrate themselves to any man, or to bow the body, or to uncover the head to them; because kneeling, bowing, and uncovering the head, is the only outward signification of our adoration towards God; and, therefore, it is not lawful to give it unto man. They affirm that it is not lawful for Christians to use such superfluities in apparel as are of no use, save for ornament and vanity. That it is not lawful to use games, sports, or plays, among Christians, under the notion of recreation, which do not agree with Christian gravity and sobriety ; for sporting, gaming, mocking, jesting, vain talking, &c. are not consonant with Christian liberty nor harmless mirth.
With regard to religious liberty, they hold that the rights of conscience are sacred and unalienable, subject only to the control of the Deity, who has not given authority to any man, or body of men, to coinpel another to his or their religion.
“On their church-government, or discipline.-To effect the salutary purposes of discipline, they have established monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings.”
All marriages among them are proposed to these meetings for their concurrence, which is granted, if, upon inquiry, the parties appear clear of other engagements respecting marriage, and if they also have the consent of their parents or guardians without which concurrence no marriages are allowed : for this society has always scrupled to acknowledge the exclusive authority of the priests to marry. Their marriages are solemnized in a public meeting for worship ; and the monthly meeting keeps a record of them; as also of the births and burials of its members. This society does not allow its members to sue each other at law; it therefore enjoins all to end their differences by speedy and impartial arbitration, agreeably to the rules laid down ; and if any refuse to act according to these rules, they are disowned.
The Friends are chiefly to be found in Great Britain and Ireland, and in North America. In 1681, King Charles the Second granted to William Penn, in lieu of arrears due to his
father Admiral Penn, a large tract of land in North America. since called Pennsylvania after his name ; and it is remarkable, that all the settlements of the Europeans in America, except the Quaker settlement of Pennsylvania, were made by force of arms, with very little regard to any prior title in the natives.
We may well commend the mild creed, and universal charity. or fraternal love, of the Quakers, though some have thought that a nation of Quakers could not exist, except all nations were of the same persuasion. To this, however, it has been said by one of their writers, that any nation actually possessing and practising Christian principles, may be contented with the protection of Heaven, which can always find means to protect what it brings to pass. However few of other denominations may be disposed to think well of their religious opinions, or of many of their peculiar customs, it cannot be denied that the Quakers, as members of society, are a respectable body ; and that, though they have a church not only without sacraments, but even without a priesthood, and a government without a head, they are perhaps the best organized and most unanimous religious society in the world. Their benevolence, moral rectitude, and commercial punctuality have excited, and long secured to them, very general esteem ; and it has been well observed, that in the multitudes that compose the vast legions of vagrants and street beggars, not a single Quaker can be found.
At the present day, the Quakers, both in England and America, are gradually departing from the peculiarities of principles and manners which have distinguished their predecessors.
OF THE UNITARIANS.
Being strenuous advocates for the scriptural doctrine of the Divine Unity, they generally claim the appellation of Unitarians : and as many of them are zealous advocates for the simple humanity of Christ, or maintain, that our Saviour is proa perly a human being, some of them have taken the name of Humanitarians. They lay claim to a very high antiquity, and even say, “ that there is no such thing as a Trinitarian Cbristian mentioned, or supposed, in the New Testament ; all therein named being perfect Unitarians—the blessed Jesus himself, his apostles, and all his followers."
They were, however, scarcely heard of in England till the time of Charles the First, and their numbers were very limited as a coinmunity, till towards the end of the last century, when they began to increase, and to acquire distinction, from the writings and influence of Dr. Priestly and his zealous associa ates.
Dr. Priestly, having met with much opposition and persecution in England, retired to America in 1794, where, in consequence of his exertions, in conjunction with those of his fellowlabourer, Mr. William Christie, and others, several Unitarian. congregations have been formed.
The Unitarians believe the Scriptures to be faithful records of past transactions, but some of them deny that their authors were divinely inspired ; and they reject the miraculous conception, and the worship of Christ, or any other being besides God the Father. “A consistent Unitarian, acknowledging Jesus as a man in all respects like to his brethren, regards his kingdom as entirely of a spiritual nature, and as consisting in the empire of his gospel over the hearts and lives of its professors.” “Unitarians" allow the inspiration of the writers of the New Testament in no cases where they do not themselves expressly claim it: and are not sparing of the labour necessary to distinguish, even in the canonical books, what is of divine authority from that which is of human origin.” Hence they do not believe in our Lord's Miraculous Conception, but are of opinion, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph and Mary. Mr. Lindsey tells us, that he thereby means no “ want of respect to that kind Saviour of men,” whom, he trusts, he “ is disposed to love and honour, now and for ever, with the affection and reverence so justly due to him, for his perfect virtue and benevolence. But,” adds he, “I cannot make him the supreme God, or invoke, or pray to him, as such ; because I am persuaded, that if he could hear, and make himself known to me, he would call out from heaven, as he did formerly to Paul, I am Jesus of Nazareth ; one who was once a mortal man like thyself: worship God.'”
“ The Unitarians believe, upon grounds common to all Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth was a divinely commissioned teacher of truth and righteousness; and that, having been publicly crucified by his enemies, he was raised from the dead on the third day. They regard it as an indispensable duty to believe whatever he was commissioned to teach. And particularly, upon the evidence of his doctrine and resurrection, they expect a general resurrection of the dead, 'both of the just and of the unjust;' and a subsequent state of retribution, in which all shall be treated in exact correspondence with their moral characters. The Unitarians believe Jesus to have been a man, for the same reasons for which they believe the proper humani: ty of Peter and Paul, of Moses and Abraham. He appeared as a man, he called himself a man, he was believed by all his.companions and cotemporaries to be a man; he had all the accidents of a man ; he was born, he lived, he eat and drank, and slept, he conversed, he rejoiced, he wept, he suffered, and he died as other men. That he was nothing more than a man, possessed of extraordinary powers and invested with an extraordinary divine commission, and that he had no existence previous to his birth, they believe, simply upon this ground, that there is no
evidence to prove the contrary. It is not incumbent upon them, nor do they pretend, to produce proof, that a person who appeared as a man was really such. “If any maintain that Jesus of Nazareth was something more than a human being, whether an angelic, super-angelic, or divine person, it is their business to prove their assertion. In this scheme of theology, along with our Lord's divinity, and the distinct personal existence of the Holy Ghost, the doctrines of original sin, and the atonement, also fall to the ground. According to Dr. Priestly, the pardon of sin is represented in Scripture ' as dispensed solely on account of men's personal virtue, a penitent upright heart, and a reformed exemplary life, without the least regard to the sufferings or merit of any being whatever.'
The Unitarians also reject the doctrine of an extraordinary divine influence upon the mind for moral and religious purposes : but they do not deny the beneficial efficacy of divine truth in regulating the affections and governing the life of every true Christian. Dr. Priestly tells us, that at an early period of his theological career, and while he was yet an Arian, he became' persuaded of the falsity of the doctrine of atonement, of the inspiration of the authors of the books of Scripture as writers, and of all idea of supernatural influence, except for the purpose of miracles.'”
Such are the grand and leading doctrines of the Unitarian system. Several other dogmas are maintained by most Unitarians, as the rejection of the existence and agency of the devil ; of the spirituality and separate existence of the soul ;-of an intermediate state between death and the general resurrection ; and of the eternity of future punishinent : but these, not being essentially connected with their system, and being held by them in common with some others, ought not to be viewed, exclusiveJy, as Unitarian doctrines.
Mr. Belsham tells us, that “the existence of an evil spirit is no where expressly taught as a doctrine of Revelation ;" he also says, that he, for one, is not ashamed to avow, that he regards the notion of a devil, and his agency, “ as an evanescent prejudice which it is now a discredit to a man of understanding to believe.” Dr. Priestley's opinions respecting the soul, of course, led him to disbelieve the doctrine of an intermediate state. Believing that as the whole man died, so the whole man would be called again to life at the appointed period of the resurrection of all men, he regarded the intermediate portion of time as a state of utter insensibility ; as a deep sleep, from which the man would awaken, when called on by the Almighty, with the same associations as he had when alive, without being sensible of the portion of time elapsed. With regard to the doctrine and the duration of future punishments, Dr. Priestley, we are told, “ had no notion of punishment, as such, in the common acceptation of the terin. The design of the Creator, in his opinion, was the ultimate happiness of all his creatures, by the mzans best fitted to produce it.” Punishment he con
sidered to be merely “ the medicina mentis exhibited for our good by the Physician of souls. Nor have we any reason to believe, that it is greater in degree, or longer in duration, than is necessary to produce the beneficial effect for which it is inflicted. It is the sort of punishment which a kind but wise parent inflicts on a beloved child.”
With regard to the moral code of the Unitarians, it is the same as others ; but they allow of somewhat greater latitude with regard to things innocent, than the Methodists and Qua" kers. The practice of virtue is represented by them, as the only means of attaining happiness, both here and hereafter; and they teach, that the Christian religion “ requires the absolute renunciation of every vice, and the practice of every virtue.” Love is with them the fulfilment of the law, and the habitual practice of virtue, from a principle of love to God, and benevolence to man, is, in their judgment," the sum and substance of Christianity.”
They reject every thing in the commonly received creeds that has the appearance of mystery, that surpasses the limits of hupan comprehension, or borders upon contradiction.
OF THE TRINITARIANS. TRINITARIANS include all that portion of Christians who believe in the Trinity of the Godhead. They believe that the Deity exists three persons in one God. I know of no better definition of this doctrine than that with which we are so familiar. “ There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost ; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
Trinitarians claim that this doctrine has been believed, in every age, by much the greater part of the Christian world. That it was never called in question, to any extent, till the fourth century after Christ. Soon after the sentiments of Arius began to prevail, which denied the divinity of the Son and the Spirit, a great Council was held at Nice, by order of the Emperor Constantine, to determine the questions which agitated the Christian church. This Council decided that the doctrine of the Trinity was an essential article of the Christian faith. Trinitarians have always maintained that this was the inost venerable ecclesiastical council, and that their decrees ought to be viewed as of the highest authority, of any one that has been assembled since the apostolic age. It was held in the year 325, consisting of more than 300 bishops, the most of whom had passed through the perils of the Diocletian persecution, and had been, during that most terrible of all Pagan persecutions, faithful confessors and sufferers for Christ.