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An Essay on the Nature and Design of Scripture Sacrifices, in
which the Theory of Archbishop Magee is Controverted. By the late James Nicol, Minister of the Parish of Traguair, near Peebles. 8vo. pp. 408. Price 12s. London. Hunter. 1823.
We remember to have been much struck with a reply made to a gentleman, who, speaking of a person well known both to himself and the friend he was addressing, observed, that he was a good-natured man. “Yes," replied the person spoken to, “he is a good-natured man, but he does very ill-natured things ;" which was true enough; for he was, it seems, in the habit of exercising and displaying his wit, much at the expense of several umoffending and unsuspicious neighbours, without having discernment enough to discover that in doing so, he was in truth guilty of a very ill-natured act.
We have, perhaps, in the book before us, one of the most extraordinary instances of an oversight, of the same nature, that was perhaps ever recorded. For here is a gentleman, praised and commended by persons of known respectability, for being a very virtuous, moral and religious man, of strict honour and inflexible integrity, constantly and most zealously engaged in the search after truth, and yet who seems to us, we must confess, to have violated all those good principles for which his friends give him credit, though as imperceptibly to himself, per. haps, as the mistake of the good-natured man, who passed his life in doing ill-natured things. We shall state the case as the publication before us, correctly enough no doubt, represents it to have been.
Mr. Nicol, it appears, was born and bred a member of the established church of Scotland; and in due course of time, actually became a regular and accredited minister of that church; continuing such, as to all outward and public acts, to the very day of his death; though he had, (we think we may venture to say,) long before, been convinced in his own mind, that her Confession of Faith was faulty and erroneous, to a very high degree.
We say, long before his death, because it certainly appears to be a very clear point, that he could not have written the many elaborate tracts and treatises, for which the Editors of his posthumous works give him credit, in a less space of time, than should
VOL, I. NO. I.
have been sufficient to convince any conscientious public minister, that it was fit for him to depart from a community, of whose errors he was so thoroughly convinced, and from whose faith he so notoriously dissented, as the contents of this work alone tend to shew and to prove.
Mr. Brewster of Craig, whose testimony to his amiable disposition, is very feelingly expressed, in a letter to the Editor, gravely and most becomingly laments the change in his friend's sentiments, but a similar impression does not appear to have been made on the mind of his biographer. What, for instance, can be said in vindication of the following passage ?
“ If any who peruse this work should wonder that the author continued to adhere to a church, the confession of whose faith was so different from his own, let him be informed, that our author did indeed contemplate his removal from the establishment of his native country, as a sacrifice which was due to the author of Truth, and one which, it is believed, if Providence had spared his useful life, he would have cheerfully, however painfully, made. It is much to be regretted, (Mr. Brewster we think would not have said so) “ that he was not enabled, as he proposed, to superintend the publication of his valuable treatises on · Adam's Apostacy ;' • The Existence and Nature of the Devil ;' "on Faith ;'' on Justification; and on the Unity of God, in which the Doctrine of the Trinity is considered, and proved to be equally contrary to Reason and Scripture. The four former treatises are, however, left by him in a finished state, and fit for publication; the last, on which he was engaged till within a very few days of his death, is so nearly completed, displays so much ingenious and patient research, and may be deemed as giving the last thoughts of a laborious student of the Scriptures, that it is confidently hoped (!!) the following work, one of our author's earliest performances, may be so favourably received as to justify the publisher in laying it before a candid and discerning public." P. viii.
Now, we can compare this, we must confess, to nothing less than giving encouragement to a soldier, who should act towards the garrison he was sworn to defend, in the following manner: Having some ground to think he was engaged in a cause, which he could not support consistently with the allegiance he owed elsewhere, and purposing therefore some time or other to procure a regular discharge, but who, instead of doing so in an open and honourable manner, should defer making this confession and asking for his discharge, till he had with the utmost care and precaution laid a train for the blowing up of the whole of the garrison, as soon as he should be himself clear of the consequences. Providence, as it happened, removed Mr. N. from the full accomplishment of his purposes, but his editors have taken the matter up, and make no scruple of springing the mine which Mr. N.'s treachery, for so it would seem, had prepared-what perversion of feeling and of taste! we must confess we want words to express, to the full, our surprise and astonishment—had Mr. N. really quitted the ministry, it might have been fair and reasonable to publish his last thoughts upon such subjects; but as long as he continued in the ministry, those who had any real regard for his reputation would, we think, have done well to have supposed, that had his life been spared, they might not have been his last thoughts.
We can make allowances for those, who, in true integrity of heart, see reason to change their religious opinions; and still more for those who, (to use a vulgar expression) happen to be hampered by positive and previous engagements. Who are unwilling abruptly to dissolve an old connection, or to bely the professions they had in time past been induced to make. We can make allowances even for a minister of any particular church, who by dint of researches, honestly and impartially pursued, should be brought to form conclusions totally different from the faith, in which he had been educated, and which he had been commissioned to teach; but we really know not how to make allowances for a minister continuing to exercise his functions publicly, all the time he was seeking privately, and in every way he could, to undermine and overthrow the very church to which he had sworn obedience. For the works enumerated above, must have occupied his attention for no inconsiderable portion of his ministry! he must in short have been, for some time, writing against the church, while he was teaching, preaching, and promulgating, her particular doctrines.
It is, we must confess, a pity that Mr. Nicol did not live long enough to review his conduct, for, perhaps, he might have followed the example of his fellow Socinian, Dr. Priestley, who after being, as Mr. Nicol was, born and bred a Calvinist, became first a Socinian, then a Unitarian, and yet lived almost to retract what he had said in defence of the tenets of the latter sectaries, and if we are not much mistaken, might in a little time have been brought to embrace again his original, or other anti
socinian principles. • Mr. Nicol's attack is avowedly directed against the orthodox, but this is surely a very strange term to use upon such an occasion. Orthodoxy, in strictness of speech, means sound doctrine, If he continue, therefore, to allow to his opponents the title of orthodox, he himself must be contented to pass for heterodox to the same extent. But it happens, that orthodoxy, in the common use of the term, is different in different places. Orthodoxy in modern Greece, consists in making the sign of the Cross with three fingers joined together apWTOY MEY a poonyes τω ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΩ, Χρισιανω, ενωσαι της δεξιάς αυλα χειρος τες πρωτις τρεις δακτυλους χαριν τυπου της αγιας τριαδος, τον μεγαν δακτυλον, και τις λοιπες δυω, τις ονλας πλησιον αυθε, δι' ων παρεμφαινομεν και φανερεμεν της αυτης αγιας τριαδος την τε ισοτητα και την ενωσιν, ομα τε και το ασυγχυλον και ασυμμικίον. See the Διδασκαλια Χριςιανικη, or Christian Catechism of the modern Greeks. The whole is very curious. Orthodoxy on the continent is very different from orthodoxy on this side of the channel; and Mr. N. must certainly have known, that generally speaking, orthodoxy on the northern side of the Tweed is different from orthodoxy to the south of that river. We cannot indeed suppose that he was not aware of this, from what appears in his letter to Mr. Mardon, inserted in the biographical sketch of his life.
." The same observations are applicable to the atonement. Till a more rational account than any which we have of the Jewish economy, and especially of sacrifices, is given, I fear much, that the orthodox doctrine of the Atonement, notwithstanding all its absurdity, will maintain its ground. Nay, what is more, I suspect much the Arminian statement of justification is almost as absurd, though not so dangerous to morality, as the orthodox statements." P. xv.
. We have judged it to be almost necessary to take this notice of the term used by Mr. Nicol to designate his opponents, because there is great chance of its tending to deceive, or perplex many of his southern readers at the least, if not indeed all his readers. As far as he combats the doctrine of atonement, he contends with the orthodox of many countries, but in his zeal for moral rectitude, as he calls it, and the necessity of repentance, he contends with a portion only of the orthodox of his Majesty's dominions, and perhaps even those he may have misunderstood or misrepresented.
But to proceed to the book itself. Its object is evidently to get rid of the whole doctrine of atonement, or vicarious suffering, by a consideration chiefly of the Jewish rites and ceremonies, as supposed to be typical of the death and sufferings of Christ. It is divided into eight sections, the heads of which are as follow :
I. Of the Institution and Nature of Sacrifice in general.
· III. Of the Court and Tabernacle of the Jews.
IV. Of the Meaning and Import of Sacrifices.
VI. Of the Nature of those Sacrifices which persons offered when they entered into Covenant with God, and dedicated themselves to his Service.
VII. Of the common Hypothesis that the Sacrifices of the Mosaic Economy were Types of the Death of Christ.
VIII. Of the Import of the Death of Christ.
Some difficulties, usually attending this particular controversy, are removed out of our way, by admissions on the part of Mr. N. at the very outset of his work. He is far from being disposed, for instance, with Dr. Priestley, to undervalue the writings of St. Paul, or the Scriptures at large. He does not wish to dispute the divine origin of sacrifices; he admits that hieroglyphics laid a natural foundation for the language of prophecy, and that the patriarchal and Mosaic sacrifices were emblematical, though he considers them only as designed to convey information applicable to the particular people to whom they were enjoined ; to the times, persons, and events then present, and by no means extending to such as were hid in the darkness of futurity, which, (with some inconsistency,) he observes, would have been the province not of symbolic representation, but of prophecy. This we cannot quite understand, because, though Mr. N. denies the typical reference to the death of Christ, usually assigned to the sacrifices of the law, he considers the Holy of Holies, or inner tabernacle of the Jews, to have been a symbol of the Christian dispensation, and which, as such, must have been prophetic of times, persons, and events to come. And in noticing this part of the tabernacle, in his third section, he says oddly enough, “ in a symbolical dispensation, such as the Mosaic was, it appears as proper to look forward to what was to come, as backward to what was before," p. 95. How entirely, however, Mr. N. is bent against the doctrine of Redemption through the blood of Christ, and of atonement and propitiation generally, is clear from the conclusion of his first section, where he resolves the whole of the sacrificial scheme and institution into a design, on the part of God, “ to assimilate man to the image of his Maker, and thus to establish his hopes of the mercy of God, and of happiness, in every period of his existence, NOT on any thing independent of his own choice and exertion, but on the purity of his heart, and the rectitude of his conduct.”
When, therefore, in the second section of his work, he comes to take an account of " the state and circumstances of the ancient world,” we find him anxious to prove, not only that the