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Happily, this great question, after a long and arduous struggle, has been terminated (as far as Great Britain is concerned) in a manner equally consonant with Justice and Humanity. But those who ventured, at the time to which we now refer, to declare themselves the determined supporters of Abolition, had to incur no small degree of obloquy. Among these early champions Mr. Burgess may justly be numbered. While the question was yet fresh, and the prejudices stirred up in opposition to its calm discussion were hot and powerful, he published, in the year 1789, a treatise entitled "Considerations on the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade, upon grounds of natural, religious, and political Duty." It is a powerful and eloquent exposure of the futility of the arguments advanced in support, not merely of West Indian slavery, but of slavery itself. It explains, in a clear and satisfactory manner, its inconsistency with the principles of Christianity; it proves in what a mitigated form it existed among the Romans; it touches in forcible terms upon the fatal consequences of the slave trade to the progress of civilisation in Africa, and among her swarthy sons in the West Indies; it describes in glowing language the genius of the British constitution, and the claims which the negroes have to a share in its paternal influence; and it anticipates, with certain and assured hope, the final triumph of the cause of emancipation, in spite of every opposing effort and influence.
It is remarkable that his proposition, in the 1789, was exactly accordant with the measure finally adopted by the British Parliament. He argues in his treatise, not for immediate emancipation, but for an Act of the Legislature which should prohibit all further importation of slaves into the British islands from the coast of Africa; and which should abolish slavery itself after a limited period and he proposes to prepare, in the mean time, for this final measure, by the Christian instruction of the Black population.
One passage, and one only, shall be adduced as a specimen of the style in which the work was written.
"There are those who think it is in vain to oppose the established practice of slavery and of the slave trade, by reasons derived from morality and religion; that all complaints of cruelty and oppression will avail nothing against the pleas of commercial and national interest.
"And can any thing be really and ultimately useful to England, which is inconsistent with her political constitution? to Christians, which offends against the very genius and spirit of their religion? or to men, which violates the first duties of human nature? It is impossible to believe (however industriously the doctrine has been circulated) that such sentiments can be general; and we ought to have much better hopes of the deliberate judgment of a whole people. If, indeed, the event of the
question were left to a body of slave merchants, some apprehension might reasonably be formed about the issue. But the cause of slavery and the slave trade is no longer a subject of mere private speculation. This cause of human nature is brought before the tribunal of that nation, which has always been celebrated for its mercy; the cause of liberty is submitted to the arbitration of that country, whose freedom and happiness are founded on the general rights of mankind. And we cannot doubt that the great principles of political justice, which form the basis of our constitution, and which ought to come home to the breast of every British subject, will have their full weight in the deliberations of those august assemblies, which are to decide on a cause that involves the purity of our holy religion, and the credit and consistency of our national character."
Coming from an individual of such learning and character as Mr. Burgess, this publication proved both seasonable and influential; and a vote of thanks for it, as such, was soon after passed by the London Abolition Committee, and transmitted to him by the late Bennet Langton, Esq.
SERMON BEfore the UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD IN 1790. CORRESPONDENCE RESPECTING IT.
FROM the moment that Mr. Burgess took orders, his attention was directed in a serious and comprehensive manner to theological pursuits. That he might be able to consult the Old Testament in the original, he was assiduous in the study of Hebrew, while his intimate acquaintance with the Greek language gave him every advantage that learning can impart for the critical investigation of the New. He also commenced, about this time, a perusal of some of the principal Greek and Latin fathers; and he soon after applied his studies in this line to a useful purpose, by addressing an able letter to the Monthly Review, in refutation of a charge which they had made against the orthodoxy of the Antinicene Fathers with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. In the year 1790, the first sermon which he published, issued from the Clarendon Press. It was preached before the University, and, as the subject was highly interesting, and the mode of treating it original, we shall be excused for dwelling upon it a little in detail. It was entitled "The Divinity of Christ; proved from his own
Declarations attested and interpreted by his living Witnesses the Jews." Respecting the great doctrine of which it treated, it may truly be said, in the language of his preface, "that there is the best evidence for asserting that it has always been believed in all ages of the church, and the best grounds for maintaining that it will so continue to be believed, by infinitely the greater part of those who study the Scriptures seriously and without prejudice." The evidence of its truth is cumulative; that is, it consists of a series of direct, and of many collateral proofs. The sermon of Mr. Burgess was confined to a particular class of those proofs, which, though occasionally glanced at by preceding writers, had not, it is believed, been hitherto placed in a light so striking, or in a form so original. The following statement will illustrate his ground of argument: - On various occasions our Saviour uses language respecting his own nature and attributes, which, interpreted according to the acknowledged and established rules of criticism, amounts to nothing less than the assertion of his Divinity, and of his equality with the Father. If any doubt could be entertained whether his words are to be interpreted in this their plain and obvious sense, that doubt is removed by the testimony of his Jewish hearers, who, being familiar with the same customs as himself, intimately conversant with their own native phraseology and idiom, in which he addressed them, and fully alive to all the circumstances of time,