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The History of the Corruptions of Christianity,
MONTHLY REVIEW FOR JUNE, 1783;
THE DOCTRIne of the primitive cHURCH,
PERSON OF CHRIST.
Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, and considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
MATT. vii. 3.
I SHALL be censured by many persons for taking this public notice of an anonymous, and especially a periodical publication; and what I hope to shew is, indeed, in itself, unworthy of any notice. But a wise man will consider things not so much as they are in themselves, as according to their power of doing good or harm. Now it cannot be denied that the Monthly Review is, in general, a respectable publication of its kind; and from the credit which it has acquired, it has considerable influence; so that as nothing is exempt from plausible misrepresentation, any writer has it in his power, with this advantage, materially to hurt the credit and impede the sale of the most valuable productions.
I am sensible that a writer best consults his dignity by
keeping silence on these occasions, and his regard for truth may be satisfied by correcting in a subsequent edition the errors of a former one. But my object, I hope, is not reputation, (I write a great deal too much for that,) but the careful investigation, and the most effectual propagation of truth; and for this purpose, I am willing to lay hold of every fair opportunity of bringing it again and again before the public.
I shall even rejoice in my own mistakes and oversights, if they should be the means of drawing more attention to any valuable subject of inquiry. Every person who writes on any side of the question, helps to keep up that attention, and by this means the truth will, in the end, be a gainer. This, however, is the first, and it will probably be the last time that (if I be now doing wrong) I shall offend in this way.
I have not been without similar provocation to take the same method of redress before: but besides that the objects were of less consequence, the slow but sure decision of time (notwithstanding the Reviewer had the advantage of the popular clamour against me) has done me sufficient justice. My History of the Corruptions of Christianity being, in my own opinion, as well as that of my friends, of more value than most of my other publications, this piece of justice was thought to be due to it in preference to any of the rest; and the knowledge and ability of the present Reviewer* makes him a much more formidable, and therefore a more respectable antagonist.
The manner in which this review of my work is conducted, must necessarily give a very unfavourable idea of it to those who have no other source of information concerning it. They must think it to be not only full of the grossest blunders, but even calculated to deceive the reader, It is, moreover, written in a tone that cannot fail to impose upon many. I know that it has done so, and I am likewise well aware that the injury I have received does not admit of any adequate redress; since for one person who will see my defence, a hundred will see the accusation only. But I shall have done my duty with respect to the public, and to a work that was sincerely intended to be useful to them, by endeavouring to exhibit to the few to whom I may have access, how little there sometimes is in the most specious
* Mr. Badcock. See infra, the Remarks, &c.; Familiar Letters, xxii. P. S.
and the most arrogant reviews of books. This may also put them on their guard with respect to similar reviews of other works; and the judgment of the impartial few may, at length, influence the less discerning many.
My criticiser, feeling the advantage of his situation, may avail himself of it, and reply in the same plausible and insufficient manner. However, having done thus much, I think I may be excused from proceeding any farther in this way; and for the future content myself with correcting any real oversights which this, or any other writer, shall convince me that I have made. This I shall certainly do the first proper opportunity; and for this, I am confident, the public, before whom I say it, will give me credit.
As I make this remonstrance under so great disadvantage, I think I may require, that if my critic should not choose to meet me on even ground, that is, in a separate pamphlet, he should, at least, give his name; and indeed he has virtually engaged to do so, by saying, "If Dr. Priestley can fairly acquit himself of every charge of misconstruction and mistake, we will acknowledge the injustice of these animadversions. And if we are convicted of misconstruction, misrepresentation, or mistake, we will kiss the rod."+ For it is quibbling with the public to talk of kissing the rod, and at the same time intending to remain anonymous. And I think he will hardly say, after reading my reply, and recrimination, that he has been guilty of no misconstruction, no misrepresentation, no mistake; not to say that exaggeration of real errors requires acknowledgment, as well as misrepresentations and mistakes. In all these respects, I challenge my critic to be as ingenuous as myself.
It may be said that I ought, at least, to have waited till the review of my work was closed. But I do not know when that will be; and, besides, the Reviewer has said, “We shall, in another article, give a general review of Dr. Priestley's work, and leave animadversions to others."‡ I choose, therefore, according to the good old adage, (of which I am seldom unmindful,) not to leave that to the morrow which may as well be done to-day.
What I advance in this publication is merely in my own defence, and without the least intention of hurting the Monthly Review. But I must observe, in general, that repeated misrepresentations of works in which the public shall
• Which was done in Mon. Rev. LXIX. pp. 215-248.
↑ Ibid. LXVIII. pp. 525, 526. (P.)
‡ Ibid. p. 526. (P.) See ibid. LXIX. pp. 89–105.
hereafter discern real merit, notwithstanding such attempts to overbear it, will necessarily bring any publication of the kind into discredit with men of sense and candour.
I will venture to say, that no work of any extent will bear to be treated as this of mine has been, viz. by exhibiting its supposed defects only, without mentioning any one thing with respect to its object or execution that is praiseworthy, or even right. Had my History of Electricity been reviewed in the same captious manner, it might have been with the same effect. I do not charge this writer with any want of learning or ability. In those respects he may be much my superior, but with a want of that candour without which there can be no true judgment of the real value of any work of man. And we have no angels either to write books
or to review them.
The reader will also, I hope, consider, that oversights and mistakes which are venial in the compiler of a large systematical work, are unpardonable in one who voluntarily steps forth with no other view than to criticise and discredit it.
This business will not, I hope, be without some advantage; as, besides the Additional Observations it has led me to make, relating to the state of ancient opinions concerning the person of Christ, in this pamphlet, (and to which what there is in it relating to myself, and my own just defence, bears but a small proportion,) it may lead to a fuller discussion of the subject. And I now profess, that in the same full and friendly manner in which I engaged with Dr. Price on the subjects of Materialism and Necessity, and with the Bishop of Waterford, † on that of the Duration of our Saviour's Ministry, I am ready to enter, with any person of learning and ability, upon the discussion of the State of Opinions concerning Christ, antecedent to the Council of Nice. My present ideas on the subject are clearly expressed, Section V. of this pamphlet; but I shall be ready to retract whatever I shall be proved to have advanced too hastily and inconsiderately, and I will heartily join with my opponent in searching it to the bottom. I wish only for a fair and generous antagonist; and this for the sake of keeping close to the serious argument, in which alone the public is interested.
I consider this kind of controversial writing as of singular use, and I reflect upon my former publications of this kind
* See Vol. IV. pp. 5-121.
+ Dr. Newcome.
with much satisfaction, as containing as free and as full a discussion of several important subjects as was ever given to the public.
I am the more at liberty for this investigation, as Mr. Gibbon has absolutely declined to discuss with me, as I proposed to him, the Historical Evidences of Christianity ;* and Bishop Hurd has not thought proper to take any notice whatever of what I addressed to him on the subject of the Reformation of Church Establishments.†
As I find it has been supposed, much to my prejudice, that in my late situation I was engaged as a party writer, I shall take this opportunity of saying, that I never wrote a political pamphlet, or a political paragraph all the time that that connexion subsisted, nor was I ever requested so to do. It would have been a violation of the most essential article on which that connexion was formed. How, or why, it was dissolved, about which there have been many surmises, concerns no persons but the parties themselves. §
Birmingham, July 21, 1783.
* See Vol. XVII. pp. 533-536.
+ See Vol. V. pp. 495-504. Bishop Hurd found it easier to bring a railing accusation against theological Reformers than to discuss the merits of any proposed reformation of Church Establishments. In the Life of his friend and favourite exemplar, he thus discovers how well he could imitate the Warburtonian insolence: "Next to Infidels professed there was no set of writers he (Bishop Warburton) treated with less ceremony than the Socinians; in whom he saw an immoderate presumption, and suspected not a little ill faith. In short, he regarded Socinianism (the idol of a self-admiring age) as a sort of infidelity in disguise, and as such he gave it no quarter." Life of Warburton, 4to. 1794, p. 119.
As a striking contrast, I add a passage with which Bishop Hurd's own bench has supplied us. In a Catalogue of Books of Divinity, annexed to his Theological Tracts, 1785, Bishop Watson, having mentioned Dr. Lardner's "Letter on the Logos," immediately subjoins the following reflections:
"Newton and Locke were esteemed Socinians, Lardner was an avowed one; Clarke and Whiston were declared Arians; Bull and Waterland were professed Athanasians. Who will take upon him to say that these men were not equal to each other in probity and scriptural knowledge? And if that be admitted, surely we ought to learn no other lesson, from the diversity of their opinions, except that of perfect moderation and good-will towards all those who happen to differ from ourselves. We ought to entertain no other wish, but that every man may be allowed, without loss of fame or fortune, et sentire quæ velit, et quæ sentiat dicere. This absolute freedom of inquiry, it is apprehended, is the best way of investigating the sense of Scripture, the most probable mean of producing an uniformity of opinion, and of rendering the gospel dispensation as intelligible to us in the eighteenth century, as, we presume, it was to Christians in the first."
In the family of Lord Shelburne. See Vol. I. Memoirs, 116.
§ See ibid. 131-133.