Page images
PDF
EPUB

[The task which we undertook is now finished. By various translations, minute criticisms, and other extracts, by way either of remark or exposition, relative to a series of texts which have been thought to bear on the Trinitarian Controversy, we have endeavoured to prove, that the principles of interpreting Scripture usually adopted by Unitarians have received the sanction of the most eminent theologians and critics of “ orthodox” churches whether British or Foreign, Papal or Protestant, Episcopalian or Nonconformist.

In the Introduction, or First Part of the work, after preparing the reader, by quotations from liberal-minded Trinitarians, for duly weighing the arguments in favour of their opponents, — we brought together a vast number of admissions, which, from their general nature, and their applicability to the Scriptures as a whole, form a species of presumptive evidence, of the greatest weight, for the truth of Unitarianism; admissions which, in some cases, represent the doctrine of the Trinity as unintelligible or absurd, and, in others, as merely inferential, and not to be found in the Bible; — admissions which not unfrequently, in the most direct terms, grant, that there is only Person, or Being, who is self-existent and unoriginated; and that our Lord Jesus Christ himself, in his highest capacity, and even according to a nature which is supposed to be truly and essentially divine, derived his existence and all his powers from the one God and Father of all. Such and similar concessions we deem sufficient to evince, that the distinguishing doctrine of Unitarianism — namely, that of the infinite Supremacy of God the Father— cannot be entirely concealed, notwithstanding all the wars and controversies which have taken place in order to establish the dogma of three co-equal and co-eternal persons in the Godhead.

Here might we have concluded. But, notwithstanding the yielding up of the very point at issue, the Bible has been ransacked and re-ransacked with the view of showing that there are three persons in one God; -- that the Son, the Sent, and Servant of God is co-equal and co-eternal with Him from whom it is admitted he was begotten, and derived his powers; - and that the Holy Ghost, who is said to have proceeded from the Father and the Son, is also equal with them in eternity, power, and glory, and is, in fact, though a different person, the same being as the first and the second hypostasis in the Deity. Of the meaning of this language we cannot, indeed, form the slightest conception; Trinitarians themselves admitting their faith to be a profound and incomprehensible mystery - in other words, to be totally unintelligible. But the dogma has been propounded in these or similar terms, in books without number; and no one could say, without prejudging the case, that it might not also be found in the Bible. The Bible, then, we opened. We commenced, in the Second Part, with the Old Testament, beginning with the first verse, and with the first words. We evoked the assistance, not of friends, but of foes we called to our aid the very men who have professed to find in the Scriptures the doctrine of a Triune God

many of them the most virulent enemies to the distinguishing tenets of Unitarianism. Could it be believed but for the undeniable fact itself, that they began and proceeded with the work of exposition and of criticism in a manner similar to that made use of by their opponents;

that they actually employed the same or a similar process of reasoning, though sometimes differing in the use of unscriptural expressions - gave up text after text as inconclusive for the purpose for which they have so frequently been adduced and finished the Old Testament, by virtually declaring, that Unitarians have been right in interpreting the Jewish Scriptures in a sense which is Antitrinitarian?

As, however, many of the so-called Orthodox have conceived that the points of belief generally held on this subject are expressly delivered by Christ and the apostles, we thought it but fair that the same mode of investigation into the meaning of the Christian Scriptures should be adopted as was employed in ascertaining the import of the Jewish writings. We therefore again, in Part III. called to our aid many of the best, the most learned, the most acute, and the most zealous minds of the Trinitarian body; and found that, amid not a little of false interpretation and unscriptural opinion, there was blended much that was truly excellent, much Unitarian argument and reasoning, — all, indeed, that a Unitarian requires; namely, that there is one God, the Father; - that he is absolutely Supreme;—that Jesus Christ, whether as the Creator of the universe, or as the Founder of the church, whether as the Governor of all things, or as the Leader and Instructor of his people, as the Lord, the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, in any and every capacity, as regards his nature or his offices,- is inferior and subordinate to the Most High;—and that the Holy Spirit is either God the Father himself, — his agency and influence on the human mind, by miracle or by the laws of nature, or an agent who derived his existence and his powers from God and Christ; - in other words, that the Scriptural evidence for the principles involved in these doctrines is full, complete, and overpowering; whilst those texts which seem to teach the dogmas of the Trinity, the eternity and truly divine essence of Jesus Christ or of the Holy Ghost, their equality with the Father as to perfections, and their identity as to essence, are some of them mistranslated, others improperly interpreted, and a few either falsified or spurious. Now, we ask, - and we would put the question in the most empha

tical manner,

whether, on the supposition of the doctrine of a Triune God being clearly and expressly laid down in the Bible, or even deducible therefrom by fair and undeniable inference, it is at all probable that Trinitarians themselves should have given a different sense to the passages which have been thought most solidly and unequivocally to prove that doctrine — should have interpreted them in a manner perfectly conpatible with a belief in the simple and uncompounded oneness of the Deity, and in the inferiority of the Son of God to the universal Father? If Unitarians are so palpably wrong, as they are represented to be, in their interpretations of Holy Writ, — if they are influenced by a desire to bend and torture the language of Scripture, to compel it to speak, and speak only, their peculiar views, as has been iterated and reiterated by the most zealous of the Orthodox, — how does it happen that so many of the learned and liberal of their own party, who have endeavoured to explain Scripture without being influenced by any considerations of a sectarian or dogmatical character, should have coincided with Antitrinitarians in their views of those portions of the Bible which are generally supposed to be inimical to Unitarianism?—and, still further, how does it happen, that even the most strenuous asserters of the doctrine of the Trinity as commonly understood, should themselves have given up as inconclusive many of those texts which seem best adapted to point out the essential Divinity of the Son and the Holy Ghost? How does it happen, that amid the multifarious Scriptural evidenceas it has been styled — for the “ orthodox” doctrine respecting God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, not only the ambiguous and darker passages, but those which have been conceived the plainer, and clearer, and more express, have all been separately admitted, either by doubt or silence or denial, or by a Unitarian interpretation, to be invalid to establish the tenets for which they are popularly adduced ? For this striking phenomenon in theology, let Trinitarians account as they may. To us it forms a strong presumption, that the evidence for the doctrines which are known by the designation of Unitarianism is too full, too expressly declared, and too clearly implicated in the records of divine revelation, to be entirely shut out from the vision of the most “ orthodox” eye- that the deficiency in moral demonstration for the existence of a Three-one Deity, of a God-man, and of another intelligent agent co-equal with the Father and the Son, is too conspicuous not to be noticed and expressed, at least occasionally, by the

on

candid and honest among the opponents of Unitarianism;

that, in short, there is something rotten in the whole fabric of the commonly received theology; — that it is based on an unsound foundation false readings -- on corrupted texts - on interpolations, -on misrenderings, - on dogmatic interpretations, — on the authority of the church; — and that the system itself is destined eventually to fall by the operation of every concession which is made, — by the advances now making in the science of Biblical and philological interpretation, — and by the inculcation of those fundamental principles in religion, which are found amongst als Christian sects, and which are indirectly, but not the less truly, adapted to banish from the noon-day of theological civilisation, the ghosts and shadows, the senseless jargon respecting essences and subsistences, hypostases and persons, identities and equalities, of that long night of scholastic darkness from which Christendom is happily emerging.

Notwithstanding, however, all the admissions favourable to the truth of Unitarianism, which have been indirectly and unconsciously made, — and perhaps those here collected are but a tithe of this species of evidence, we may be asked, as a last resort, “ How can you account for the doctrine of a Triune God being the belief of an overwhelming majority of members in the Christian church, unless you acknowledge that the doctrine itself was originally derived from Sacred Scripture?” As a reply to this argument, we had prepared a mass of evidence, from other concessions of Trinitarians, to prove that the dogma of three persons in one God, equal to each other in all divine perfections, was not the faith of the Fathers, — of those writers who lived in the first ages of the Christian church; that it took its rise from heathenism, and particularly from the Platonic school of philosophy, - gradually approached to the state in which it now exists, -- and was established only by the successive controversies and accumulative efforts of ecclesiastics, aided by the civil power. But we have room only for one condensed quotation from a strenuous supporter of Protestant “ Orthodoxy,” JURIEU, in Lettres Pastorales, vol. i. pp. 126—134; and with this extract we close our present labours; trusting that, so far as they are conducive to Christian charity, and to the dissemination of religious truth, they may receive the blessing of Almighty God :

Divine truth was not revealed, except in small portions; and even the revelations were perfectly understood and happily explained, only after the labours of many centuries, and by the united lights of a vast number of teachers. Heresies and heretics led to the knowledge of Christian truths in their perfection. Heretics afforded to the church the means, not merely of learning new explanations and new modes, but even new truths, according to the solid and judicious remark of St. AUGUSTINE. The adorable mystery of the Trinity of persons in one and the same divine essence is in the New Testament laid down with so much perspicuity, that we have no need of human learning to find it there; and I have no doubt, that the first teachers in the Christian church saw it as we do. Yet every one knows, that this mystery remained incomplete (informe) till the first council of Nice, nay, till that of Constantinople. — [The writer proceeds to show, that the ancients believed the Son to have been derived from the Father, not by eternal generation, but by creation at the beginning of the world; quoting, in his support, ATHENAGORAS, Tatian, THEOPHILUS, and TERTULLIAN. He then continues:] — It is certain that all the ancients of the three first centuries explained the mystery of the Trinity nearly alike; recognising only one substance in God, making the three persons distinct, but begotten and produced in time, very often confounding the Son and the Holy Spirit, and putting inequality between the Father and the Son. JUSTIN MARTYR frequently says, that the Son was the minister or servant of the Father; and that, before his incarnation, he was subject to the Father's will. St. IRENÆUS most clearly makes the Son inferior and subject to the Father. The book of the Apostolic Constitutions, falsely attributed to St. Clement, says things so hard respecting the inequality of the persons of the Trinity, that PETAVIUS, the Jesuit, is forced to own its doctrine to be the Arian and Macedonian heresy. CLEMENT of Alexandria clearly enough places this inequality between the persons. Every one knows that in the present day we acknowledge three hypostases in the Divinity; but all who have perused the works of the Fathers are sensible, that up to the Council of Nice, and even afterwards, only one hypostasis was recognised. St. Athanasius informs us, that on this point there was great contention amongst the orthodox in the church of Antioch; some affirming that there were three hypostases in God; and others, only one. The fate of the term consubstantial is also well known; a term which the church now fully agrees to signify, that the Son is of the same essence with the Father, but which was almost unknown in the three first ages. In the third century, it was condemned in the Council of Antioch, held in opposition to the heretic, Paul of Samosata. In short, their theology on this subject was so imperfect, that PETAVIUS (Theol. Dogm. tom, ü. Præfat. cap. 3) is obliged to confess, in suitable terms, that they have given us only its 'first lineaments.'"]

THE END.

« PreviousContinue »