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These objections, as far as they are personal to Mr. Leslie, are founded upon the publication now referred to, in which there occur different passages very exceptionable in a religious view. But as the ministers who object to Mr. Leslie have no desire to multiply grounds of charge without necessity, they content themselves
the attention of others to the Note No. XVI., subjoined to Mr. Leslie's book, in which he has stated and defended an opinion calculated to undermine the foundation of all religion, both natural and revealed.
The note commences with these words, “ Mr. Hume is the first, as far as I know, who has treated of causation in a truly philosophic manner. His Essay on Necessary Connexion seems a model of clear and accurate reasoning. But it was only wanted to dispel the cloud of mystery, which had so long darkened that important subject. The unsophisticated sentiments of mankind are in perfect unison with the deductions of Logic, and imply nothing more at bottom, in the relation of cause and effect, than a constant and invariable sequence.”
It is well known, that Mr. Hume's doctrine of causation, and particularly his Essay on Necessary connexion, are the foundation of all his infidel tenets; and it is evident that Mr. Leslie, in having thus, along with Mr. Hume, denied all such* connexion between cause and effect, as implies an operating principle in the cause, has of course laid a foundation for rejecting all the argument that is derived from the works of God, to prove either his being or his attributes.
Mr. Leslie proceeds, in the Note referred to, to support his proposition by a long etymological argument, intended to show, that neither the word cause, nor any synonymous word in any language, is either designed or calculated to denote any thing more, than “first in the order of succession,” or, “the object which precedes ;” so that were his reasoning to be held conclusive, we should not even be left in possession of words to convey the idea of an operating power in the Divine Mind. And as the doctrine extends equally to a denial of all connexion between volition in the human mind
* See Note, p. 356.
and the conduct to which it leads, there results from it, as unavoidably, a denial of man being accountable for his conduct.
This doctrine of Mr. Leslie, in which it will be found, upon examination, that, as a disciple of Mr. Hume, he has even taken higher ground than was ever ventured on by (his) master, has appeared to the Ministers of Edinburgh in a very different view from those partial heresies, real or supposed, for which Professors in the Universities have been formerly called in question by the Church. And looking to the publication of this doctrine, in connexion with the circumstances of the times, when there appears an infidel party arraying itself, with increasing confidence, against the religion of the country, they cannot but consider the appointment of Mr. Leslie to be a Professor and a teacher of youth, as a measure of very unfriendly aspect to our Christian Faith, and our Church establishment for its support.
A letter indeed has appeared from Mr. Leslie, professing to be explanatory of his doctrine ; but the Ministers of Edinburgh have found in it little more than an attempt to deny and misrepresent the obvious meaning of words, as if both Mr. Hume's doctrine and Mr. Leslie's referred merely to physical causes; while every man who reads Mr. Hume's Essay in connexion with Mr. Leslie's Note, must perceive that their conjoint doctrine upon the subject of causation is placed upon the broadest ground, extending to every thing under the name of cause, in either matter or mind. Mr. Leslie has indeed added, in his letter, that he did not intend to apply his doctrine to the purposes for which it was applied by Mr. Hume. But to the extent in which the Ministers of Edinburgh have represented his doctrine as hostile to religion, considered as a doctrine subversive of the argument for the being and perfections of God, and for man being an accountable agent,—the application did not remain to be made; the application is necessary and unavoidable: if the principle be once admitted, no mind can resist the conclusion.
The Ministers of Edinburgh have therefore felt it their indispensable duty, to protest, in the most solemn manner, against Mr. Leslie's appointment; both upon the grounds now stated personal to himself, and upon the separate ground, that they had a right to be previously advised with by the Town Council, respecting the election of a Professor, in terms of the Charter of James the Sixth erecting the University ; by which the power of electing Professors is vested in the Town Council
, under the express provision of its being exercised with the advice of their Ministers, ("cum avisamento tamen eorum vinistrorum."')
The claim of the Ministers of Edinburgh, under the Royal Charter, will naturally fall to be discussed in a civil court. But they would account themselves deficient in the duty they owe to the Church, if they did not also take the proper steps for bringing the whole of this interesting case, if it shall be found necessary, under the consideration of the General Assembly. In the mean time they are disposed, if they shall err, to take their chance of erring on the side of lenity and forbearance, rather than on that of severity and rigor : and upon this principle they have resolved, that if Mr. Leslie shall consent to withdraw what is offensive in his publication, either by cancelling the leaves of the book which contain the note referred to, or by any other means, equally effectual, that may be more agreeable to himself, they will, in that event, cease their proceeding as far as concerns him individually, and content themselves with following out the necessary measures against the Town Council
, for establishing their right of avisamentum in future cases. But as there is hitherto no prospect of Mr. Leslie giving this satisfaction for the offence he has committed against the religion of his country, in which case the dangerous opinions contained in his book would continue to be circulated and published among the youth of the land, under the sanction of the name of a Professor in the University of Edinburgh ; it is likely there will be an unavoidable necessity of discussing the whole affair in the General Assembly; with a view to that Venerable Body employing such means of redressing the grievance, as to them may appear wise and competent.
The Ministers who thus object against Mr. Leslie's appointment as a Professor, think it their duty at the same time to mention, that though they take to themselves the name of the Ministers of Edinburgh, as being a considerable majority of that body, and though, in this case, they had at first the countenance of several of their ordinary ecclesiastical opponents; all these gentlemen have now deserted them. The reasons and motives of this desertion, they will not rashly judge or condemn. But they are aware that their own motives are at present called in question, upon a supposition of their being influenced by a regard to the interest of their brother, Mr. Macknight, as a candidate for the Mathematical Chair, or by other personal considerations. To the persons who lay this charge, they make no reply. But to others they think it their duty to state, that only one or two of their number ever solicited an individual in favor of Mr. Macknight; and that, before their proceedings in this case commenced, Mr. Macknight's pretensions were entirely out of [the] question; to which facts they only desire to add, that, were they actuated by any view to their future interest, or that of Mr. Macknight in particular, in relation to the Chairs of the University, the measures they are now adopting would be the most effectual they could employ for defeating their own purpose.
At any rate, the case which has been stated ought to be judged of upon the single ground of its own merits. The opposite opinions which men may entertain, whether of the motives of those who bring forward this question, or of the general merits of Mr. Leslie as a gentleman and a scholar, cannot with reason be allowed in such a case to influence their judgment of the question itself. For, if the charge that is laid be well founded, it is obvious that the judgment to be pronounced must affect the vitals of our Christian faith, and our Church establishment. It is therefore hoped, that the laity, connected with the Church, will not, in this instance, refuse to a question more immediately religious, that candid and attentive consideration which the clergy have so often (given] to the views of their lay breth
ren, in cases which more immediately involved the civil interests of the country. And it is not doubted that the Clergy, even in the most distant corners of the Church, will feel a commanding interest in the discussion of a question, in which the credit of religion and the ecclesiastical establishment appear so deeply committed.
presents best compliments to Mr.
and begs leave to recommend the preceding paper to his perusal.
20th April, 1805.
List of the Members of the Presbytery who voted for
dismissing the Business relating to Mr. Leslie, when it was first brought before that Court, by the Ministers of Edinburgh, on the last Wednesday of March.
Dr. Hunter, Professor of Divinity.
* Dr. Johnston did not stay to vote, but gave his opinion, and at next meeting adhered to the dissent from the judgment of the Presbytery.
| In the first edition, the name of Dr. Davidson was by mistake inserted in this list. He was not present at the meeting mentioned above ; but his opinion on the question then under consideration is well known to have agreed with that of the gentleman with whom his naine was connected; and it had been not only previously expressed in a letter to a meeting of the Ministers of Edinburgh, but was referred to in the Minutes of their proceedings which they laid before the Presbytery.