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him the appellation of God. For John says, ch. i. 1, " and the word was God.” Thus, I believe all Arians interpret the passage:
It is, therefore, not a little extraordinary, that they should pretend that they do not acknowledge two Gods. They will say that Christ is God in an inferior sense, as Moses is called a god with respect to Pharoah. But according to the Arian hypothesis, Christ is God in a very
different sense from that in which Moses could ever
He is a God not in name only, but in power. They do not even acknowledge a great God, and a little one; but a very great God, and another greater than he. On this account the Arians were always considered as polytheists by the ancient Trinitarians, while the Unitarians were regarded as Jews, holding the unity of God in too strict a
For these reasons I own that, in my opinion, those who are usually called Socinians (who consider Christ as being a mere man) are the only body of Christians who are properly entitled to the appellation of Unitarians ; and that the Arians are even less entitled to it than the Athanasians, who also lay claim to it. The Athanasian system, according to one explanation of it, is certainly tritheism, but according to another it is mere nonsense.
Some may possibly say,–It is not necessary that Christ should of himself have wisdom and power sufficient for the work of creation ; but that, nevertheless, God might work by him in that business, as he did in his miracles on earth; Christ speaking the word, or using some indifferent action (such as anointing the eyes of the blind man) and God producing the effect.
The two cases, however, are essentially different. That Christ, or any other prophet, should be able to foretell what God would do (which, in fact, is all that they pretended to) was necessary, as a proof of their divine mission; whenever there was a propriety in God's having intercourse with men, by means of a man like themselves. But what reason can there even be imagined why God, intending to make a world by his own immediate power, should first create an angel or a man, merely to give the word of command, whenever he should bid him to do so ; when by the suppo. sition, there was no other being existing to learn any thing from it?
Besides, a being naturally incapable of doing any thing cannot properly be said to be an instrument by which it is done. I use a pen as an instrument in writing, because a pen is naturally fitted for the purpose, and I could not write
without one. But if, besides a pen, without which I could not write, I should take a flute, and blow on it every time that I took my pen in hand in order to write, and should say that I chose to write with such an instrument, I should lay myself open to ridicule. And yet such an instrument of creation would this hypothesis make Christ to have been.
I must take it for granted, therefore, that Christ would never have been employed in the work of creation, it he had not been originally endued with power sufficient for the work. In that case, without the communication of any new powers, or any more immediate agency of God, he would be able to execute whatever was appointed him. Thus, Abraham, having a natural power of walking, could go wherever God ordered him; and a prophet, having the power of speech, could deliver to others whatever God should give him in charge to say. Any other hypothesis appears to me to be inadmissible.
Such being the hypothesis that the Arians have to defend, they ought certainly to look well to the arguments they produce for it. The greater and the more alarming any doctrine is, the clearer ought to be the evidence by which it is to be supported. I do not in this work undertake to consider particular passages of scripture; but I have shewn that the general tenour of it, as well as considerations from reason, are highly unfavourable to the Arian hypothesis, and it will be seen, in the course of this work, that it has as little support from history.
SECTION VI. Of the Argument against the Pre-existence of Christ from
the Materiality of Man; and of the Use of the Doctrine of the Trinity.
I might have urged another kind of argument against both the divinity and pre-existence of Christ, viz. from the doctrine of the materiality of man, which I presume has been sufficiently proved in my Disquisitions on Matter and Spirit. (Vol. III.) I have there shewn that there is no more reason why a man should be supposed to have an immaterial principle within him, than that a dog, a plant, or a magnet, should have one; because in all these cases, there is just the same difficulty in imagining any connexion between the visible matter, of which they consist, and the
invisible powers, of which they are possessed. If universal concomitance be the foundation of all our reasoning concerning causes and effects, the organized brain of a man must be deemed to be the proper seat, and immediate cause of his sensation and thinking, as much as the inward structure of a magnet, whatever that be, is the cause of its power of attracting iron.
The most inanimate parts of nature are possessed of powers or properties, between which and what we see and feel of them, we are not able to perceive any connexion whatever. There is just as much connexion between the principles of sensation and thought, and the brain of a man, as between the powers of a magnet and the iron of which it is made, or between the principle of gravitation and the matter of which the earth and the sun are made; and whenever we shall be able to deduce the powers of a magnet from the other properties of iron, we may perhaps be able to deduce the powers of sensation and thought from the other properties of the brain.
This is a very short and plain argument, perfectly consonant to all our reasoning in philosophy. It is conclusive against the doctrine of a soul, and consequently against the whole system of pre-existence. If Peter, James and John, had no pre-existent state, it must be contrary to all analogy to suppose Jesus to have pre-existed. His being a prophet, and having a power of working miracles, can make no just exception in his favour; for then every preceding prophet must have pre-existed.
I think I have also proved in my Disquisitions, that the doctrine of a soul, as a substance distinct from the body, and capable of being happy or miserable when the body is in the grave, was borrowed from Pagan philosophy, that it is totally repugnant to the system of revelation, and unknown in the Scriptures ; which speak of no reward for the righteous, or punishment for the wicked, before the general resurrection, and the coming of Christ to judge the world..
I might therefore have urged that, since the doctrine of Christ's pre-existence is contrary to reason, and was never taught by Christ or his apostles, it could not have been the faith of their immediate disciples, in the first ages of Christianity. This argument will have its weight with those who reject the doctrine of a soul, and make them look with suspicion upon any pretended proof of the doctrine of Christ's pre-existence, and of its having been the faith of the apostolical age, as well as their previous persuasion that such is not the doctrine of the Scriptures. And since all the three positions are capable of independent proof, the urging of them is not arguing in a circle, but the adducing of proper collateral evidence.
I would conclude this Introduction with advising the advocates for the doctrine of the Trinity to consider what there is in it that can recommend it as a part of a system of religious truth. All that can be said for it is, that the doctrine, however improbable in itself, is necessary to explain some particular texts of Scripture; and that if it had not been for those particular texts, we should have found no want of it. For there is neither any fact in nature, nor any one purpose of morals (which are the object and end of all religion) that requires it.
Is not one self-existent, almighty, infinitely wise, and perfectly good Being, fully equal to the production of all things, and also to the support and government of the worlds which he has made ? A second person in the godhead cannot be really wanted for this purpose, as far as we can conceive.
Whatever may be meant by the redemption of the world, is not the Being who made it equal to that also ? If his creatures offend him, and by repentance and reformation become the proper objects of his forgiveness, is it not more natural to suppose that he has, within himself, a power of forgiving them, and of restoring them to his favour, without the strange expedient of another person, fully equal to himself, condescending to animate a human body, and dying for them? We never think of any similiar expedient in order to forgive, with the greatest propriety and effect, offences committed by our children against ourselves.
Whatever be supposed to be the use of a third person in the Trinity, is not the influence of the first person sufficient for that also ? The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was to enable them to work miracles. But when our Saviour was on earth, the Father within him, and acting by him, did the same thing.
Why then should any person be so desirous of retaining such a doctrine as this of the Trinity, which he must acknowledge has an uncouth appearance, has always confounded the best reason of mankind, and drives us to the doctrine of inexplicable mysteries; to the great offence of Jews, Mahometans, and unbelievers in general, without some urgent necessity ? Of two difficulties we are always
authorized to choose the least; and why should we risk the whole of Christianity, for the sake of so unnecessary and undesirable a part?
Let those then who are attached to the doctrine of the Trinity, try whether they cannot hit upon some method or other of reconciling a few particular texts, not only with common sense, but also with the general and the obvious tenour of the Scriptures themselves. In this they will, no doubt, find some difficulty at first, from the effect of early impressions, and association of ideas; but an attention to the true idiom of the scripture language, with such helps as they may easily find for the purpose, will satisfy them that the doctrine of the Trinity furnishes no proper clue to the right uuderstanding of these texts, but will only serve to mislead them.
In the mean time, this doctrine of the Trinity wears so disagreeable an aspect, that I think every reasonable man must say with the excellent Archbishop Tillotson, * with respect to the Athanasian Creed, “I wish we were well rid of it.” This is not setting up reason against the Scriptures, but reconciling reason with the Scriptures, and the Scriptures with themselves. On any other scheme, they are irreconcileably at variance.
In bis Letter to Burnet. See Birch's Life of Tillotson, Ed. 2, p. 315, Tillotson had been anticipated by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who says, “ if it were considered concerning Athanasius's Creed, how many people understand it not, how contrary to natural reason it seems, how little the Scripture says of those curiosities of explication—it had not been amiss if the final judgment had been left to Jesus Christ." Lib. of Proph. 2d ed. p. 78. In 1750, the learned Dr. Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, moved in the Irish House of Lords, “ that the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds should, for the future, be left out of the Liturgy of the Church of Ireland.” Biog. Brit. III. 625. To these prelates, who have expressed their disiuclination to the Athanasian Creed, may be added, the present Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. Tomlin, in his Elements of Theology.