Page images

ture; and, as they teach us how little we can depend upon the imperfection of our own virtue, so they shew us, at the same time, that the most powerful intercession has been made, and the most dreadful atonement has been paid for our manifold transgressions and iniquities.(THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS, p. 204


Such were the reflexions of a man, whose powers of thinking and reasoning will surely not be pronounced inferior to those of any even of the most distinguished champions of the Unitarian school, and whose theological opinions cannot be charged with any supposed tincture from professional habits or interests. A layman, (and he too the familiar friend of David Hume,) whose life was employed in scientific, political and philosophical research, has given to the world these sentiments as the natural suggestions of reason. * Yet these are the sentiments which are the scoff of sciolists and witlings.-Compare these observations of Adam Smith with what has been said on the same subject in Numbers IV. IX. and XV.

* When these observations were before committed to the press, I was not aware, that the pious reflexions, to which they particularly advert, are no longer to be found, as constituting a part of that work from which they have been quoted. The fact is, that in the later editions of the The ory of Moral Sentiments, no one sentence appears of the extract which has been cited above, and which I had derived from the first edition, the only one that I possessed. This circumstance, however, does not in any degree affect the truth of what had been said by the author, nor the justness of the sentiments which he had uttered in a pure and unsophisticated state of mind. It evinces indeed, that he did not altogether escape the infection of David Hume's soci. ety; and it adds one proof more to the many that already cxisted, of the danger, even to the most enlightened, from a familiar contact with infidelity. How far Adam Smith's partiality to Hume did ultimately carry him, may easily be collected from his emphatical observations on the character of his deceased friend, to which I shall have occasion to di. rect the reader's attention in another part of these volumes,



PAGE 28. (y)— It was not without much surprise, that after having written the sentence here referred to, I found on reading a paper of Dr. Priestley's in the Theol. Rep. (vol. i. p. 404.) that the Book of Job was appealed to by him, as furnishing a decisive proof, not only, “ that mankind in his time had not the least apprehension that repentance and reformation alone, without the sufferings or merit of any Being whatever, would not sufficiently atone for past offences :" but that “ the Almighty himself gives a sanction to these sentiments.” Let the Book of Job speak for itself: The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, my wrath is kindled against thee and thy friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my Servant Job hath -Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my Servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering ; and my Servant Job shall pray for you : for him will I accept, lest I deal with you after your folly. (Job. xlii. 7, 8.) If this be not a suffieient specimen, we are supplied with another in ch. i. 4, 5. in which it is said, that after the sons of Job had been employed in feasting, Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt-offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, IT MAY BE THAT MY SONS HAVE SINNED, AND

Thus did Job continually.--I leave these without comment, to confront the assertions of Dr. Priestley and to demonstrate the value of his representations of Scripture. I shall only add, that in the very page in which he makes the above assertions, he has quoted from Job a passage, that immediately follows the former of those here cited.







PAGE 28. (3)—Dr. Priestley (Theol. Rep. vol. i. p. 417.) asserts, that “ Justice in the Deity, can be no more than a modification of that goodness or benevolence, which is his sole governing principle :" from which he of course infers, that “under the administration of God, there can be no occasion to exercise any severity on penitent offenders;” or in other words, that repentance must of itself, from the nature of the Deity, cancel all former offences; and that the man, who has spent a life of gross vice and audacious impiety, if he at any time reform, shall stand as clear of the divine displeasure as he, who has uniformly, to the utmost of his power, walked before his God, in a spirit of meek and pious obedience. This is certainly the necessary result of pure benevolence: nay, the same principle followed up, must exclude punishment in all cases whatever; the very notion of punishment being incompatible with pure

benevolence, But surely it would be a strange property of JUSTICE, call it, with Dr. Priestley, a modification of benevolence, or whatever else he pleases, to release all from punishment, the hardened and unrelenting offender no less than the sincerely contrite, and truly humbled, penitent.

But in his use of the term justice, as applied to the Deity, is not Dr. Priestley guilty of most unworthy trilling? Why speak of it, as “a modification of the divine benevolence,” if it be nothing different from that attribute; and if it be different from it, how can benevolence be the “ SOLE governing principle" of the divine administration ?-The word justice then is plainly but a sound made use of to save appearances, as an attribute called by that name has usually been ascribed to the Deity ; but in reality nothing is meant by it, in Dr. Priestley's application of the term, different from pure and absolute benevolence. This is likewise evident, as we have seen, from the whole course of his argument. Now could it be conceded to Dr. Priestley, that the whole character of God is to be resolved into simple benevolence, then the scheme, which by rejecting the notion of divine displeasure against the sinner involves impunity of guilt, might fairly be admitted. But, as it has been well remarked, “ if rectitude be the measure and rule of thật benevolence, it might rather be presumed, that the scheme of Redemption would carry a relation to Sinners, in one way as objects of mercy, in another as objects of punishment; that God might be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth in the Redeemer.” See the 2d of Holmes's Four Tracts, in which he confirms by parallel instances, the use of the word

« PreviousContinue »