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The reason why the term Socinians is preferred, in the following Letter, to that of Unitarians, is not for the mean purpose of reproach; but because the latter name is not a fair one. The term, as constantly explained by themselves, signifies those professors of Christianity who worship but one God: but this is not that wherein they can be allowed to be distingushed from others For what professors of Christianity are there, who profess to worship a plurality of Gods? Trinitarians profess also to be UnitariThey, as well as their opponents, believe there is but one God. To give Socinians this name, therefore, exclusively, would be granting them the very point which they seem so desirous to take for granted; that is to say, the point in debate.
Names, it may be said, signify little; and this signifies no more on one side, than the term orthodox does on the other. The writer owns, that, when he first conceived the idea of publishing these Letters, he thought so; and intended, all along, to use the term Unitarians. What made him alter his mind was, his observing, that the principal writers in that scheme bave frequently availed themselves of the above name, and appear to wish to have it thought, by their readers, that the point in dispute between them and the Trinitarian is, Whether there be three Gods, or only one?
If he had thought the use of the term Unitarians consistent with justice to his own argument, he would have preferred it to that of Socinians; and would also have been glad of a term to express the system which he has defended, instead of calling it after the name of Calvin ; as he is aware, that calling ourselves after the names of men, (though it be merely to avoid circumlocution,) is liable to be understood as giving them an authority which is inconsistent with a conformity to our Lord's command, Call no man master upon earth; for one is your master, even Christ.
He may add, that the substance of the following Letters was written before the riots at Birmingham, His regard to justice and humanity made him feel much, on that occasion, for Dr. Priestley, and others who suffered with him; but his regard to what he esteems important truth made him feel more. The injury which a doctrine receives from those who would support it by the unhallowed hands of plunder and persecution, is far greater in the
esteem of many, than it can receive from the efforts of its avowed adversaries. For his own part, he has generally supposed, that both the contrivers and executors of that iniquitous business, call. themselves what they will, were men of no principle. If, however, those of the high-church party, who instead of disavowing the spirit and conduct of the misguided populace, have manifestly exulted in it, must be reckoned among the Trinitarians; he has only to say, they are such Trinitarians as he utterly disapproves ; and concerning whom he cannot so well express his sentiments and feelings, as in the words of the patriarch: Instruments of cruelty are in their habitation. O my soul, come not thou into their secret ; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath for it was cruel.
Detestable, however, as were the riots at Birmingham; no one can plead, that they render the religious principles of Dr. Priestley less erroneous, or less pernicious; or an opposition to them, upon the fair ground of argument, less necessary. On the contrary, the mere circumstance of his being a persecuted man, will have its influence on some people, and incline them not only to feel for the man, the gentleman, and the philosopher; (all which is right; but to think favourably of his religious opinions. On this consideration, if the following Letters would, previous to that event, have been in any degree proper and seasonable; they are not, by 'any thing that has since occurred, become improper, or unseasonable.
Since the first edition, the author has attempted, in some places, to strengthen his argument, and to remove such objections as have, hitherto occurred. The principal additions will be found in Letters IV. and XV. The note, towards the latter end of the former, was occasioned by a report, that Dr. Priestley complained of being misrepresented by the quotation in the first page of the Preface, This Note contains a vindication, not only of the fairness of the quotation from Dr. Priestley, but of another, on the same purpose, from Mr. Belsham and an answer to what is advanced, on its be
half, in the Monthly Review.
A Comparison of Motives exhibited, by the two Systems, to Gratitude,
CALVINISTIC AND SOCINIAN
INTRODUCTION AND GENERAL REMARKS.
MUCH has been written of late years on the Socinian controversy; so much, that the attention of the Christian world has, to a considerable degree, been drawn towards it. There is no reason, however, for considering this circumstance as a matter of wonder, or regret. Not of wonder: for supposing the deity and atonement of Christ to be divine truths, they are of such importance in the Christian scheme, as to induce the adversaries of the gospel to bend their main force against them, as against the rock on which Christ hath built his church. Not of regret: for, whatever partial evils may arise from a full discussion of a subject, the interests of truth will, doubtless, in the end prevail; and the prevalence of truth is a good that will outweigh all the ills that may have attended its discovery. Controversy engages a number of persons of different talents and turns of mind; and, by this means, the subject is likely to be considered in every view in which it is capable of being exhibited to advantage.
The point of light in which the subject will be considered in these letters, namely, as influencing the heart and life, has been frequently glanced at on both sides. I do not recollect, however, to have seen this view of it, professedly and separately handled.