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A VIEW OF THE PRINCIPAL ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE
DOCTRINES OF THE DIVINITY AND PRE-EXISTENCE OF CHRIST,
Of the Argument against the Doctrines of the Divinity and
Pre-existence of Christ, from the general Tenour of the
Scriptures. When we inquire into the doctrine of any book, or set of books, concerning any subject, and particular passages are alleged in favour of different opinions, we should chiefly consider what is the general tenour of the whole work with respect to it, or what impression the first careful perusal of it would probably make upon an impartial reader. This is not difficult to distinguish. For, in works of any considerable extent, the leading doctrines, and particularly those which it was the particular design of the writers to inculcate, will occur frequently, and they will often be illustrated, and enforced by a variety of arguments ; so that those things only will be dubious, the mention of which occurs but seldom, or which are not expressly asserted, but only inferred from particular expressions. But by attending only to some particular expressions, and neglecting, or wholly overlooking others, the strangest and most unaccountable opinions may be ascribed to writers. Nay, without considering the relation that particular expressions bear to others, and to the tenour of the whole work, sentiments the very reverse of those which the writers meant to inculcate may be ascribed to them.
If, from previous instruction, and early habits, we find it difficult to ascertain the real meaning and design of a writer, in this way, we shall find much assistance by considering in what sense he was actually understood by those persons for whose use he wrote, and who must have been the best acquainted with his language. For if a writer expresses himself with tolerable clearness, and really means to be understood, (being well acquainted with the persons into whose hands his work will come,) he cannot fail to be so, with respect to every thing of consequence.
If we wish to know whether Homer, for instance, entertained the opinion of there being more gods than one, we need only read his poems, and no doubt will remain concerning it; the mention of Jupiter, Juno, Mars, &c. and the part they took in the siege of Troy, occurring perpetually. Ifany difficulty should still remain, we must then consider what were the opinions, and what was the practice of the Greeks, who read and approved his poems. In this way we shall soon satisfy ourselves, that Homer held the doctrine of a multiplicity of gods, and that he, and the Greeks in general, were what we call idolaters.
In like manner, an impartial person may easily satisfy himself, that the writers of the books of Scripture held the doctrine of one God, and that they were understood to do so by those persons for whose use the books were written.
If we consult Moses's account of the creation, we shall find that he makes no mention of more than one God, who made the heavens and the earth, who supplied the earth with plants and animals, and who also formed man.
The plural number, indeed, is made use of when God is represented as saying, Gen. i. 26, “ Let us make man;" but that this is mere phraseology, is evident from its being said immediately after, in the singular number, ver. 27, “ God created man in his own image;" so that the Creator was still one being. Also, in the account of the building of the tower of Babel, we read, Gen. xi. 6, 7, that“ the Lord said let us go down, and there confound their language;" but we find, in the very next verse, that it was one being, only, who actually effected this.
In all the intercourse of God with Adam, Noah, and the other patriarchs, no mention is made of more than one being who addressed them under that character. The name by which he is distinguished is sometimes Jehovah, and at other times the God of Abraham, &c. ; but no doubt can be entertained, that this was the same being who is first mentioned
under the general title of God, and to whom the making of the heavens and the earth is ascribed.
Frequent mention is made in the Scriptures, of angels, who sometimes speak in the name of God, but then they are always represented as the creatures and the servants of God. It is even doubtful whether, in some cases, what are called angels, and had the form of men, who even walked, and spake, &c. like men, were any thing more than temporary appearances, and no permanent beings; the mere organs of the Deity, used for the purpose of making bimself known and understood by his creatures. On no account, however, can these angels be considered as gods, rivals of the Supreme Being, or of the same rank with him.
The most express declarations concerning the unity of God, and the importance of the belief of it, are frequent in the Old Testament. The first commandment is, Exod. xx. 3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' This is repeated in the most emphatical manner, Deut. vi. 4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” I have no occasion to repeat what occurs on this subject in the later prophets. It appears, indeed, to have been the great object of the religion of the Jews, and of their being distinguished from other nations by the superior presence and superintendence of God, to preserve among them the knowledge of the divine unity, while the rest of the world were falling into idolatry. And by means of this nation, and the discipline which it underwent, that great doctrine was effectually preserved among men, and continues to be so to this day.
Had there been any distinction of persons in the divine nature, such as the doctrine of the Trinity supposes, it is at least so like an infringement of the fundamental doctrine of the Jewish religion, that it certainly required to be explained, and the obvious inference from it to be guarded against, Had the eternal Father had a Son, and also a Spirit, each of them equal in power and glory to himself, though there should have been a sense in which each of them was truly God, and yet there was, properly speaking, only one God; at least the more obvious inference would have been, that if each of the three persons was properly God, they would all together make three Gods. Since, therefore, nothing of this kind is said in the Old Testament, as the objection is never made, nor answered, it is evident that the idea had not then occurred. No expression, or appearance, had at that time even suggested the difficulty.
If we guide ourselves by the sense in which the Jews
understood their own sacred books, we cannot but conclude that they contained no such doctrine as that of the Christian Trinity. For it does not appear that any Jew, of ancient or modern times, ever deduced such a doctrine from them. The Jews always interpreted their Scriptures as teaching that God is simply one, without distinction of persons, and that the same being who made the world, did also speak to the patriarchs and the prophets, without the intervention of any other beings besides angels.
Christians have imagined that the Messiah was to be the second person in the divine Trinity ; but the Jews themselves, great as were their expectations from the Messiah, never supposed any such thing. And if we consider the prophecies concerning this great personage, we shall be satisfied that they could not possibly have led them to expect any other than a man, in that character. The Messiah is supposed to be announced to our first parents under the title of the seed of the woman, Gen. iii. 15. But the phrase born of woman, which is of the same import, is always in Scripture synonymous to man. Job says, ch. xiv. 1, Man, that is born of a woman, is of few days and full of trouble ;” and again, ch. xxv. 4, “ How can he be clean that is born of a woman?"
God promised to Abraham, Gen. xii. 3, that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. This, if it relate to the Messiah at all, can give us no other idea than that one of his seed or posterity, should be the means of conferring great blessings on mankind. What else, also, could be suggested by the description which Moses is
supposed to give of the Messiah, when he said, Deut. xviii. 18, is I will raise them up a prophet, from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him”? Here is nothing like a second person in the Trinity, a person equal to the Father, but a mere prophet, delivering, in the name of God, whatever he is ordered so to do. By Isaiah, who writes more distinctly concerning the Messiah than any of the preceding prophets, his sufferings and death are mentioned, ch. liii. Daniel also speaks of him as to be cut off, ch. ix. 26. But surely these are characters of a man, and not those of a God. Accordingly, it appears, in the history of our Saviour, that the Jews of his time expected that their Messiah would be a prince and a conqueror, like David, from whom he was to be descended.
In the New Testament we find the same doctrine concern
ing God that we do in the Old. To the scribe who inquired which was the first and the greatest commandment, our Sariour answered, Mark xii. 29, “ The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” And the scribe answered to him, ver. 32, “ Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is one God, and there is none other but he."
Christ himself always prayed to this one God, as his God and Father.
He always spake of himself as receiving his doctrine and his power from him, and again and again disclaimed having any power of his own. John v. 19 : “ Then answered Jesus and said unto them, verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself.” Ch. xiv. 10: • The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.' Ch. xx. 17: “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and unto my God and
your God.” It cannot, surely, be God that uses such language as this.
The apostles, to the latest period of their writings, speak the same language ; representing the Father as the only true God, and Christ as a man, the servant of God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him all the power of which he is possessed, as a reward of his obedience. Peter says, Acts ii. 22, 24, “ Ye men of Israel, hear these words : Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, &c. whom God hath raised up. Paul also says, 1 Tim. ii. 5, “ There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Heb. ii. 9, 10: “ We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels,”i.e, who was a man, “ for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, &c. “ For it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Such, I will venture to say, is the general tenour of the Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament; and the passages that even seem to speak, or that can by any forced construction be made to speak, a different language, are comparatively few. It will also be seen, in the course of this history, that the common people, for whose use the books of the New Testament were written, saw nothing in them of the doctrines of the pre-existence or divinity of Christ, which many persons of this day are so confident that