The main reason why we are accused of spiritual pride, bigotry, uncharitableness, and the like, is the importance which we ascribe to some of our sentiments. Viewing them as essential to Christianity, we cannot, properly speaking, acknowledge as Christians those who reject them. It is this which provokes the resentment of our opponents, and induces them to load us with opprobrious epithets. We have already touched upon this topic, in the Letter on Candour, but will now consider it more particularly.
It is allowed that we ought not to judge of whole bodies of men by the denomination under which they pass, because names do not always describe the real principles they embrace. It is possible that a person who attends upon a very unsound ministry may not understand or adopt so much of the system which he hears inculcated, as that his disposition shall be formed or his conduct regulated by it. I have heard, from persons who have been much conversant with Socinians, that though in general they are of a loose, dissipated turn of mind, assembling in the gay circles of pleasure, and following the customs and manners of the world; yet that there are some among them who are more serious; and that these, if not in their conversation, yet in their solemn addresses to the Almighty, incline to the doctrines of Calvinism. This perfectly accords with Mrs. Barbauld’s representation of the matter, as noticed towards the close of the Sixth Letter. These people are not, properly speaking, Socinians; and therefore ought to be left quite out of the question. For the question is, Whether as believing in the Deity and atonement of Christ, with other correspondent doctrines, we be required, by the charity inculcated in the gospel, to acknowledge, as fellow Christians, those who thoroughly and avowedly reject them.
It is no part of the business of this Letter to prove that these doctrines are true; this at present I have a right to take for granted. The fair state of the objection, if delivered by a Socinian, would be to this effect: “Though your sentiments should be right, yet by refusing to acknowledge, as fellow Christians, others who differ from you, you overrate their importance, and so violate the charity recommended by the gospel.” To the objection, as thus stated, I shall endeavour to reply.
Charity, it is allowed, will induce us to put the most favourable construction upon things, and to entertain the most favourable opinion of persons, that truth will admit. It is far from the spirit of Christianity to indulge a censorious temper, or to take pleasure in drawing unfavourable conclusions against any person whatever; but the tenderest disposition towards mankind cannot convert truth into falsehood, or falsehood into truth. Unless, therefore, we reject the Bible, and the belief of any thing as necessary to salvation, though we should stretch our good opinion of men to the greatest lengths, yet we must stop somewhere. Charity itself does not so believe all things as to disregard truth and evidence. We are sometimes reminded of our Lord’s command, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This language is, doubtless, designed to reprove a censorious disposition, which leads people to pass unjust judgment, or to discern a mote in a brother’s eye, while they are blind to a beam in their own: but it cannot be intended to forbid all judgment whatever, even upon characters; for this would be contrary to what our Lord teaches in the same discourse, warning his disciples to beware of false prophets, who would come to them in sheep’s clothing; adding, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Few pretend that we ought to think favourably of profligate characters, or that it is any breach of charity to think unfavourably concerning them. But if the words of our Lord be understood as forbidding all judgment whatever upon characters, it must be wrong to pass any judgment upon them. Nay, it must be wrong for a minister to declare to a drunkard, a thief, or an adulterer, that if he die in his present condition, he must perish, because this is judging the party not to be in a state of salvation.
All the use that is commonly made of our Lord’s words is in favour of sentiments, not of actions; but the Scriptures make no such distinction. Men are there represented as being under the wrath of God who have not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God; nor is there anything intimated in our Lord’s expressions, as if the judgment which he forbade his disciples to pass were to be confined to matters of sentiment. The judgment which is there reproved is partial or wrong judgment, whether it be on account of sentiment or of practice. Even those who plead against judging persons on account of sentiment (many of them at least) allow themselves to think unfavourably of avowed infidels, who have heard the gospel, but continue to reject it. They themselves, therefore, do judge unfavourably of men on account of their sentiments; and must do so, unless they will reject the Bible, which declares unbelievers to be under condemnation.
Dr. Priestley, however, seems to extend his favourable opinion to idolaters and infidels, without distinction. “All differences in modes of worship,” he says, “may be only the different methods by which different men (who are equally the offspring of God) are endeavouring to honour and obey their common Parent.” He also inveighs against a supposition that the mere holding of any opinions (so it seems the great articles of our faith must be called) should exclude men from the favour of God. It is true what he says is guarded so much as to give the argument he engages to support a very plausible appearance; but withal so ill directed as not in the least to affect that of his opponents. His words are these: “Let those who maintain that the mere holding of any opinions (without regard to the motives and state of mind through which men may have been led to form them) will necessarily exclude them from the favour of God, be particularly careful with respect to the premises from which they draw so alarming a conclusion.” The counsel contained in these words is undoubtedly very good. Those premises ought to be well-founded from which such a conclusion is drawn. I do not indeed suppose that any ground for such a conclusion exists, and who they are that draw it I cannot tell. The mere holding of an opinion, considered abstractedly from the motive or state of mind of him that holds it, must be simply an exercise of intellect; and, I am inclined to think, has in it neither good nor evil. But the question is, whether there be not truths which from the nature of them cannot be rejected without an evil bias of heart; and, therefore, where we see those truths rejected, whether we have not authority to conclude that such rejection must have arisen from an evil bias.
If a man say, There is no God, the Scripture teaches us to consider it rather as the language of his heart than simply of his judgment, and makes no scruple of calling him a fool; which, according to the Scriptural idea of the term, is equal to calling him a wicked man. And let it be seriously considered, upon what other principle our Lord could send forth his disciples to “preach the gospel to every creature,” and add, as he did, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Is it not here plainly supposed that the gospel was accompanied with such evidence, that no intelligent creature could reject it but from an evil bias of heart, such as would justly expose him to damnation! If it had been possible for an intelligent creature, after hearing the gospel, to think Jesus an impostor, and his doctrine a lie, without any evil motive, or corrupt state of mind, I desire to know how the Lord of glory is to be acquitted of something worse than bigotry in making such a declaration.
Because the mere holding of an opinion, irrespective of the motive or state of mind in him that holds it, is neither good nor evil, it does not follow that “all differences in modes of worship may be only the different methods by which different men are endeavouring to honour and obey their common Parent.” The latter includes more than the former. The performance of worship contains more than the mere holding of an opinion; for it includes an exercise of the heart. Our Lord and his apostles did not proceed on any such principle, when they went forth preaching the gospel, as I hope has been sufficiently proved in the Letter on Candour. The principles on which they proceeded were, An assurance that they were of God, and that the whole world were lying in wickedness—That he who was of God would hear their words; and he who was not of God would not hear them—That he who believed their testimony set to his seal that God was true; and he that believed it not made God a liar.
If we consider a belief of the gospel, in those who hear it, as essential to salvation, we shall be called bigots; but if this be bigotry, Jesus Christ and his apostles were bigots; and the same outcry might have been raised against them, by both Jews and Greeks, as is now raised against us. Jesus Christ himself said to the Jews, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins;” and his apostles went forth with the same language. They wrote and preached that men “might believe that Jesus was the Christ; and that, believing, they might have life through his name.” Those who embraced their testimony they treated as in a state of salvation, and those who rejected it were told that they had “judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life.” In short, they acted as men fully convinced of the truth of what their Lord had declared in their commission; “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Excerpt from “Charity: In Which is Considered the Charge of Bigotry,” in The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Examined and Compared.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 176–177). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.