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THIS second edition has given the Author an opportunity of profiting by observations and strictures made on the first; and he will gladly avail himself of a future impression for the same purpose: but this is the only mode of defence or reply, that he ever contemplated; agreeably to a sentiment expressed in the preface to his Treatise on the Attributes, published in 1818: “If it were adopted as an universal rule and canon among authors, to deliver their own sentiments, without expressly controverting the opinions of their antagonists; in no case to refer to an opponent by name; and, least of all, with asperity or personal allusions, how greatly would the labour of the press be diminished, the price of knowledge reduced, and the edification of the public enhanced s” The notes are now annexed to each sermon respectively. The extracts are, for the most part, taken from the writings of the
most learned, zealous and popular advocates for the doctrines controverted in this volume,
that their true nature and tendency may be ascertained on unquestionable authority; and to justify the representation given of them in these sermons; not to fix a stigma on any sect or individual. They are generally copied from Bishop Mant's Bampton Lectures, Bishop Tomline on Calvinism, Acta Dordracena Remonstrantium, and other works of undoubted credit; as the Author could not always have access to the original works: but no argument depends on the accuracy of these quotations.
Belfast, June 20, 1826.
To THE FIRST EDITION.
To the First Presbyterian Congregation in Belfast.
THIS volume I dedicate to you, in token of gratitude for the liberality and indulgence, with which you have attended on my ministry for four and thirty years; and in consequence of a wish, frequently expressed, that I should leave a record of the religious principles, inculcated from your pulpit for a century past. With this desire I have, at length, been induced to comply, by the prevalence of opinions, which appear to me to be unscriptural, and of pernicious tendency; and an apprehension, that yours may have been misrepresented by the violence of party zeal. I have, therefore, selected these discourses, not only to assist your recollection, but also for the consideration of those who differ from us. In these controversial times, individuals and societies are called upon to make their sentiments known; and a minister may deem it his duty to his people, to explain himself in a form more precise and permanent than oral instruction. This is particularly expedient in those who profess free inquiry, and adopt neither creed, nor confession, articles of faith, nor doctrinal catechism, but the word of God alone. Though these circumstances may expose you to obloquy and misrepresentation, they are attended with many advan
tages. If your ministers can discover the truth, they have no temptation to conceal or pervert it; and you are equally free to adopt their sentiments, if they can convince you of their truth. They are not obliged to conform to an antiquated standard; neither do you expect them to flatter your prejudices. You choose them as instructors of all, and not as organs of the prejudices of the majority. Neither party is subject to any human control; and both have the free use of Scripture. We inherit no creed of human composition, and entail none on our posterity. We can all worship in spirit and from the heart, in truth and sincerity, and speak our sentiments without prevarication or reserve. We are neither fond of novelty, nor afraid of innovation: neither pledged to the support of established error, nor fearful of stumbling on some heretical truth. For my own part, I am more afraid of singularity, than ambitious of originality. I have always felt a dread of dealing out my own crude conceptions for your spiritual nourishment; and have preferred food, that had been well concocted by more skilful hands; diluted with “the pure milk of the word,” “and seasoned with salt.” Having, however, freely exercised my privilege of selection, this volume is not composed on the plan of any prior system. It is consistent only with itself and the Gospel. The Antitrinitarian and Arminian doctrines recommended in these sermons are the same, that were formerly inculcated by those eminent ministers, Haliday and my Grandfather, Drennan and Brown, Mackay and Crombie; and lastly, by myself and my son, with such variations as must be expected in men, neither shackled by subscriptions, nor guided by formularies. Of the principles of older ministers, Kirkpatrick, M'Bride and Adair, all distinguished men in their day, and their predecessors, I am not competent to speak with precision. With similar allowance, they have been maintained by the Presbytery of Antrim, for the same period; and have long prevailed in the Synod of Munster, and among the Presbyterians of England, though, in that country, lately mingled
with Socinianism.” They are making extensive, though silent progress through the General Synod of Ulster. They have been gaining ground in Geneva, the birth place of Calvinism, since the commencement of the last century, and have now obtained the ascendency. They are widely diffused through the academies and congregations of the French Protestants, the Dutch churches, the north of Europe, and the United States of America. The instructions of your teachers have, at all times, been combined with the principles of civil and religious liberty, and the rights of free inquiry and private judgment. Civil freedom is the parent and nurse of religious liberty, and is maintained and defended by her in return. Freedom of inquiry, and the privilege of private judgment, are the parents and guardians of Protestantism. Protestant establishments correct and restrain papal influence and power;
* I am far from using Socinianism in an offensive sense. I adopt it as the only term, that discriminates between those, who deny the pre-existence of Christ, and other Unitarians. It has no reference to the other doctrines of Socinus, which are little known to the public. I am content to be called an Arian; though I may differ from Arius; and I object to calling the Humanitarians, Unitarians simply; because I also am an Unitarian, but not of their sect; on the same principle, that I object to the common practice of appropriating the title of Protestant to the Episcopal church. Unitarian has a disingenuous appearance, implying a wish to include Arians against their will, in order to swell the number of Humanitarians. This last term is even more exceptionable than Socinian, having been formerly applied to the Anthropomorphites. It would be more noble to bring a disreputable name into repute by their learning and piety, as the Quakers have done. Some suppose, that the disciples at Antioch were denominated Christians, by way of reproach, as the disciples of one Christ, who had been crucified. Both have become honourable appellations. I had occasion to explain myself on the subject of this Note in the Monthly Repository, vol. viii. p. 515.
+ This has been clearly evinced, since the publication of the First Edition. The Synod has set a noble example to other ecclesiastical bodies, by leaving subscription to the Westminster Confession optional. They have thus broken down the wall of partition between them and the Presbytery of Antrim, and vindicated the wisdom and piety of our ancestors.