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There comes into view the responsibility of the character, in which the author delivered the foregoing Lectures, and now gives them to the publick, with the Dissertations intended to illustrate them. It is made a question with many serious people, how far the theory which the version was to sustain, and particularly how far the publick worship with which it is incorporated in the character of scripture, is to be considered as subservient to that cause of infidelity, which has of late years made such inroads on the faith and the practice of the world. It is here wished to divide the inquiry into a question of opinion, and a question of fact.
In the light of a question of opinion, there is the persuasion, that there is a tendency to infidelity, especially with literary and reflecting persons; principally through the medium of the maxims of interpretation, on which the system is constructed. But this is said in a frame of mind, which would abhor the charging of any man of correct conduct, with holding opinions different from those of his profession. Not only so, it is recollected from authentick testimony and from observation, that sincere persons, whose education has associated in their minds the leading truths of religion, with erroneous explanations and adventitious errours, sometimes find difficulty in disengaging themselves from the one, without abandonment of the other; while, shrinking from the gulph of non-existence, which unqualified infidelity sets before them, they the more easily surrender themselves to a theory, which is neither this nor the religion of the gospel; yet seems to give them a hold of the life and immortality which it has brought to light.
Another natural result would seem to be, that per. sons indifferent to religion in any shape, but remarking that it is the Christian religion alone, either in reality or in appearance, which sustains among us any acknowJedgment of the being and of the perfections of God by acts of homage, thus contributing to decorum of manners and to the order of social life; will prefer the form which shall comprehend the profession of the
said religion, with the fewest of its constituent doc. trines. Perhaps it may seem, that even such a form will be better than none, on account of the object to which it is supposed to be referred. This might be, were it not for another deduction, to which the train of reasoning leads. It is, that in general the lamp of profession may be expected to expire, for the want of the oil of evangelical truth; having very little intermediate effect of genuine piety. Still let this be understood with the admission of shades of difference, on the score of individual character.
On the question of fact, there is the wish to be more cautious. A general position ought to be grounded on a greater mass of particulars, than come within the range of any personal knowledge possessed. But there can be no errour in adverting to the circumstancefor it is notorious
that in countries in which what is called Unitarianism has been long known, particularly in England, authors of high character have been in the habit of noticing in their writings, that it has had a signal operation in detaching men from the profession of Christianity in any form.
Of those testimonies, one only shall be produced. It is from “Discourses and Dissertations on the Scrip. tural Doctrines of Atonement and Sacrifice," lately published by Dr. Wm. Magee, a professor and senior fellow in the University of Dublin. Concerning this work, the present author is confident that he hazards nothing, when he delivers the opinion that it is a most learned, able and convincing treatise. The said Dr. Magee writes as follows_" It is notorious, and it will require no small degree of hardihood to deny it, that from those who have professed Unitarianism in En. gland, the largest stock of unbelievers has arisen: nay more, that their principal academy, the place in which Unitarian principles were inculcated in their greatest purity and with every advantage of zealous ability in the teacher, and of unbiassed docility in the learner, has born witness to the efficacy of those principles, by its dissolution, imperiously demanded by the prevalence of infidel opinions. Now in what way shall we account for this event? Was Unitarianism not properly taught at Hackney?* or, with all its vaunted simplicity, is it a scheme so difficult to conceive, that the learners not being able to comprehend it rightly, became unbelievers from not having been firmly grounded? Howsoever it be explained, the fact is incontrovertible, and seems not a little to countenance the idea, that the road to Unitarianism differs from that which leads to infidelity by so slight a distinction, that the traveller not unfrequently mistakes his way.”+
In another place, Dr. Magee makes the following appeal to one of the former conductors of the insti. tution at Hackney-" Let Mr. B. himself say, what has been the progressive nature of the cause in that seminary. Mr. B. has too great a regard for truth, not to admit, that the pupils of the new light had gone beyond their teachers a little too far: that they had somewhat too strongly exemplified the progressive nature of the system, by reaching at once the goal of deism; and that in some instances, perhaps not a few, the race had been crowned with the prize of direct, avowed, and unqualified atheism."
The present author was in England, when the said institution of Hackney, about twenty-six years ago, was contemplated; and when the measures were in train for the founding of it. He was acquainted and occasionally in conversation with some, who were leaders in that business, and of whom he believes, that had they perceived the natural issue of their labours, they would have abandoned the object of them. But such, and in so short a space of time, respectable authority attests to have been the fruit of an enterprise, on which there were founded the most sanguine expectations.
* The academy of Hackney was instituted to be a substitute for another which had been at Warrington, and had already run its course. † Ainerican Edition, p. 484,
# Page 481.
Notwithstanding the length of this section, it ought not to be concluded, without a remark on the title page of the version under review. It is here conceived to do injustice to a very respectable character---that of Dr. Wm. Newcome, late archbishop of Armagh. What is called “ An Improved Version,” is professed to be “on the basis of archbishop Newcome's new translation.” The relation of a basis to its superstructure is so well understood, that it is not natural to find what was laid down in the former, essentially changed by the raising of the latter. The question as to what is essential, should be determined according to the theory of the archbishop, and not according to that of his Improvers. His translation* abundantly shows his faith in the two doctrines, to disprove which was the principal object of their work: and believing those doctrines, he ought not to be supposed to have held them of less importance, than those generally who consent with him in opinion. It is true, that the title page gives notice of a corrected text. But this may mean much or little; and would have been sufficiently complied with, by the rectifying of typographical errours, if such were found. At any rate, the corrections ought to have been very moderate, after the promise of retaining the basis. Let it be here acknowledged, that the errour of the title page seems to have been counteracted by the notes. But there are many, whose knowledge of the work will go no further, than what the title page informs them of; and many more, who will hear the text read or quoted, and even read it, without extending their attention to the criticisms below. Accordingly, the event has been, that the late primate of the established Church of Ireland has been supposed by some to have surrendered her doctrines, in the form of a translation of the New Testament.
* It is here meant as given by the version under review, compared with the notes. The present author has taken pains, without effect, to procure a copy of the translation of the archbishop. Accordingly, he neither denies por affirms the fidelity of the exhibition of it.
The Improvers had originally entertained an idea, which would have dispensed with what is here thought an undue use of the name of archbishop Newcome. They contemplated the adopting of another translation, set out by the late Gilbert Wakefield; who agreed with them in what are called Unitarian principles, and had superadded the extraordinary discovery, that there is no warrant for social worship in the New Testament. It is here supposed, that although in a few instances there might have been the necessity of deviating from his text, it would have substantially retained its character of a basis.
It only remains to add, that the advocates of the New Testament in its integrity, have a right to deduce their own inferences from the mutilated and vitiated production bearing its name; and to urge, that the hav. ing of recourse to such an expedient, is virtually an acknowledgment of the impossibility of educing from the pure text, the mistaken system intended to be established by the other. It was remarked in the beginning, that the deniers of the divinity of Christ and of the propitiatory sacrifice, have been remarkable in times past for change of the ground of argument. Of this, the improved version (so called] may hereafter be considered as the most remarkable instance that has occurred: which ought to be remembered, when, as is here expected to be the issue, the version shall have fallen into neglect.